Today, leaders at the highest level recognized 99 law schools across the United States – including The University of New Mexico School of Law – for their rapid response addressing the pandemic housing and eviction crisis that left thousands of Americans on the verge of homelessness.
“When I issued the call for action, you responded,” U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said during a virtual event. “You are the new generation of Americans to whom the torch of the legal obligation is passed. Your services in the past 151 days ensures me that the torch remains in good hands, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.”
“The pandemic has brought home, in the clearest way possible, that housing stability is crucial for public health, education, physical health and more,” - Serge Martinez, UNM School of Law associate dean for Experiential Learning.
When the pandemic hit many individuals lost their jobs, causing a predictable ripple effect and leaving the most vulnerable unable to pay rent. In New Mexico, as in many states, people don’t have to be that behind in rent before facing eviction – issues students and faculty at the UNM School of Law have been addressing for years.
Addressing law school students, deans and faculty during the Zoom call, U.S. Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta laid out a staggering statistic that each year nearly three million people are displaced – despite the pandemic.
“The pandemic exacerbated an existing housing crisis — even before 2020, New Mexico had an extreme shortage of affordable housing, and many families were already struggling to afford rent. When economic opportunities dried up, it amplified the already bleak situation for renters in the state,” said Serge Martinez, UNM School of Law associate dean for Experiential Learning.
Last summer, Garland issued a “Call To Action to the Legal Profession,” requesting the assistance of law schools around the United States after the Supreme Court struck down the CDC’s eviction moratorium that would have essentially prevented the eviction of any tenants who live in counties that are experiencing substantial or high levels of COVID-19 transmission. Political leaders said this mobilization of law schools resulted in 21,000 students dedicating more than 81,000 hours to serving more than 10,000 households. Martinez said part of the work done by students and faculty of UNM School of Law included researching eviction landscapes, faculty members pushing for protections and countless hours educating the public and state legislators.
“This is a big deal,” Martinez explained. “It led to countless families avoiding eviction and the parade of terrible outcomes that come with it. Looking ahead, this has also laid a foundation, or strengthened an existing one, for incorporating housing stability into their clinics, their curricula, their training of students who are about to join the profession. It has created awareness among law schools of what everyone else is doing and will foster connections and collaborations around this issue. It will have effects far beyond these past few months of action.”
“You are the new generation of Americans to whom the torch of the legal obligation is passed. Your services in the past 151 days ensures me that the torch remains in good hands, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.” - U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland.
Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff also addressed all 99 law schools, thanking students and faculty for their service now and their efforts moving forward.
“Your work is just so vital, because as we speak, for so many people, the representation is literally the difference between keeping a roof over their family or being pushed out on the streets,” he said. “As you know, every year, millions of Americans are shutout of the civil court system and denied their rightful access to justice, this isn’t because they did anything wrong, they simply don’t have access to legal help.”
“The pandemic has brought home, in the clearest way possible, that housing stability is crucial for public health, education, physical health and more,” Martinez said. “I’m hopeful that this focus on housing will not fade when the pandemic does, and that we will hold on to this lesson about the foundational role that housing stability plays in our society.”