NU College of Law Tenant Assistance Project expands

The Tenant Assistance Program provides free legal services to Lancaster County residents facing eviction.
Published: Sep. 21, 2022 at 7:33 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - The University of Nebraska College of Law’s Tenant Assistance Project has come a long way since April 2020.

Back when masks were hard to come by and vaccines were a long way off, most courthouse hearings stopped. But not evictions.

“They would have attorneys come in, and they would ask the court for a judgment,” Alan Dugger, one of two Housing Justice Program fellows, said. “And they would get it. Oftentimes, tenants would show up, and you’d try 15 to 20 cases in the span of an hour and evict that many people. That’s how it used to work.”

That’s why University of Nebraska Law Professor Ryan Sullivan showed up wearing a suit and a dust mask, asking people if they were being evicted and needed representation.

Now, the program has about 100 volunteer attorneys and 40 student volunteers involved. It’s saved more than 2,000 Nebraska families from immediate eviction at no cost to the tenants.

“The work that TAP does and that the housing justice program does is really crucially important in ensuring that access to justice exists for renters in Lancaster County, in Lincoln,” Rachel Tomlinson Dick, the other Housing Justice Program fellow, said.

In August, the Housing Justice Fellowship Program started with two paid full-time fellows. They support the volunteer, and they’ll be at the courthouse every day eviction hearings take place.

“Having an attorney in your corner, facing a conviction, makes all the difference in the world,” Dugger said.

The pair say they’re passionate about their work-- providing justice to those who can’t afford representation. And their work speaks for itself.

In 98% of cases, the program has helped tenants avoid immediate eviction at no cost to them.

“Being a renter, being a single parent during law school. And understanding some of the financial and practical pressures that people face,” Tomlinson Dick said. “And knowing that a lot of times my ability to avoid being in the exact same place as them was more a matter of luck.”