female looking away

Nakea Brown previously lived at the Rolland Curtis Gardens apartment complex, which is being redeveloped. She found affordable housing elsewhere with help from the USC Housing Law Clinic. (Photo/Ron Mackovich)

Social Impact

Housing clinic at USC helps renters find affordable homes

The community resource serves as translator, legal adviser and advocate at no charge for people with housing issues

March 17, 2017 Ron Mackovich-Rodriguez

With affordable housing in short supply, some tenants are turning to the USC Housing Law Clinic for help. The clinic provides referrals, information and representation at no charge for residents who face discrimination, eviction, landlord disputes and other housing problems.

For Kishi Hundley, the help came just in time. After eight years at the Rolland Curtis Gardens apartments in Exposition Park, Hundley had to move out last year. A relocation allowance of $1,375 was not enough to get Hundley and her daughter into a new home.

“I didn’t have a place to go when I moved out, so I used the money for a motel room, gas and food. That money went fast. I was so weary,” Hundley said. “I’m thankful I got in touch with the USC Housing Clinic because that’s how I survived. The money came right in time.”

Hundley and 40 other tenants in 20 units got about $7,000 after attorneys working with the clinic negotiated a new agreement.

“I went to the USC workshop in Exposition Park,” said Hundley, who has moved into a one-bedroom apartment around the corner from her old home and is studying psychology at Los Angeles City College. She spread the word once she found effective legal resources.

“I shared the information with my neighbors so they wouldn’t be left out,” she said. “We also have the first right to return once the building is rebuilt.”

The clinic is part of USC Civic Engagement.

We look to make real impact as we partner with our neighbors on education, economic development and even housing.

Thomas S. Sayles

“The clinic and USC Civic Engagement represent USC’s commitment to and investment in our community,” said Thomas S. Sayles, USC senior vice president for university relations. “We look to make real impact as we partner with our neighbors on education, economic development and even housing.”

Solutions outside the courtroom

The clinic is funded through a development pact the university entered into in connection with the USC Specific plan, an agreement that includes a commitment of up to $20 million to the city’s affordable housing trust fund for surrounding neighborhoods.

The clinic has managed about 80 matters for clients during the past year. Some are referred to a law firm; others are addressed through community services.

Nakea Brown, a mother of three, is one of Hundley’s former neighbors who hopes to return to the complex.

The attorney gave us hope when there was none. Now I’m talking to other moms about how I got through.

Nakea Brown

“People need to find out the details, otherwise they’ll be crushed,” she said. “I was blessed because I got enough to move and we were able to transition smoothly to another unit. The attorney gave us hope when there was none. Now I’m talking to other moms about how I got through.”

“We didn’t go to court,” said attorney Eric Castelblanco, whose firm works with the USC clinic on some cases. “I think we got a really good benefit for the tenants. They needed assistance moving out of the property and into somewhere else where they would be accepted. We negotiated a settlement with the landlord and the management. Everyone bent over backwards to make this work.”

Help in different languages

Li Fellers is an Exposition Park resident who led some of her neighbors to the clinic.

“The tenants spoke several different languages and one was from Ethiopia with a certain dialect,” she said. “We had an appointment with an attorney within a few days, and they brought in translators so the tenants would be able to understand.”

The clinic has also provided translators for clients who spoke Aramaic, Korean and Spanish.

“They had no leverage and they weren’t under rent control,” Fellers said. “The clinic got a lawyer to help and you don’t always get that.”

Fellers considers herself fortunate because she doesn’t need services, but she is concerned about affordable housing in Exposition Park.

“This is an ongoing issue in my little corner,” she said. “It’s good to know this resource exists.”

Tony McCoy, a former Rolland Curtis tenant, stayed in a motel for a couple of months and dealt with frustrations like waiting lists. Still, he credits the clinic for helping him find an affordable apartment nearby.

“They did all they could to help out,” he said. “After all, nobody should be out on the street if they don’t have to be.”