Issue 128: May 2018
Pro bono partnership provides access to justice for vulnerable public housing residents
Gadens has a young and growing pro bono practice, a key component of which is a housing clinic with Moonee Valley Legal Service (MVLS). This pro bono partnership began in 2016 when the firm’s Pro Bono Coordinator Sophie McNamara (currently on maternity leave) started talking with Moonee Valley about how they could work together. Following the success of a one-year pilot, the Public Housing Resident Advocacy Project was established and is now approved to continue beyond June 2018.
A housing clinic was a natural fit for Gadens – one of the priorities of the firm’s pro bono practice is assisting people who are at risk of homelessness. Public housing tenants are some of Victoria’s most vulnerable people, as eviction from public housing inevitably leads to homelessness, which in turn has a detrimental effect upon health, employability and a range of other wellbeing factors.
To serve this vulnerable population, the project offers free legal advice, information and assistance in areas such as tenancy rights, utility disputes, rental rebates and debt. This involves staff conducting client interviews, as well as case work, with this including drafting VCAT applications, drafting letters between clients and the Office of Housing, as well as tenancy law research tasks.
Junior lawyers and graduates at Gadens are encouraged to join the roster to attend the clinic. MVLS’s principal lawyer, Brendan Lacota, provides training for Gadens lawyers and the firm also trains participants in tenancy law.
One major issue affecting residents is redevelopment of the Ascot Vale public housing estate by the Victorian State Government. Consultation is currently underway to determine the final plans for the site, and residents are being contacted to provide feedback into the consultation. All residents currently living on the estate will be relocated by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) for the duration of the redevelopment. This is compounding existing issues faced by these tenants and is anticipated to lead to an increase in demand for public housing tenancy legal assistance.
In this context, the housing clinic will prove more vital than ever. Volunteer lawyers staff the weekly clinic, providing legal advice and information in relation to legal issues arising from the redevelopment (Tenancy Advice Program). The junior lawyers and graduates are then responsible for creating a report on the clinic.
“Thanks to the support of Gadens our Resident Advocacy Project is able to help some of Australia’s most vulnerable people to secure their tenancies and avoid homelessness,” Brendan said.
Gadens’ 2018 graduates have just commenced at the clinic, alongside graduates from the 2017 cohort.
If your organisation has a pro bono project, we’d love to hear from you! Please get in touch at info [at] probonocentre.org.au.
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AUSTRALIAN PRO BONO NEWS