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Residents of Los Angeles County's poorest areas to get help in keeping their homes.

At Los Angeles County's downtown civil courthouse, a coalition of legal aid groups will provide representation to about 15,000 people facing eviction over three years.

May 02, 2011|By Victoria Kim, Los Angeles Times

Thousands of residents in Los Angeles' poorest neighborhoods will get new legal help in fighting high-stakes eviction cases involving slumlords and foreclosures under a pilot project approved by the state's judicial leaders Friday.

The new Eviction Legal Assistance Center at Los Angeles County Superior Court's downtown civil courthouse will provide legal representation to about 15,000 people facing eviction over three years, according to legal aid groups, which will be jointly running the center.

In the majority of the county's 70,000 annual eviction cases, poor and unrepresented tenants are pitted against landlords who have private attorneys, and they face uphill battles in navigating housing laws, protecting their rights and reaching reasonable settlements, the groups say.

In the caseload passing through Stanley Mosk Courthouse in downtown L.A., attorneys said, they found that three South L.A. ZIP Codes — 90003, 90011 and 90044 — had more evictions than elsewhere in the county.

By concentrating their efforts on those areas, the legal aid organizations also want to show that providing assistance will lead to broader economic effects on the community by keeping people off the streets and in their jobs and keeping children in their homes, said Public Counsel President Hernán Vera.

"We see this as the first baby steps toward a national movement recognizing there's a larger right to legal representation at stake," Vera said. "Not only is it a moral right, it economically makes sense."

Vera said the project would target the most vulnerable litigants based on disability, age, education and language.

The program is expected to begin next January with 16 attorneys from four groups: Neighborhood Legal Services, Legal Aid Foundation, Inner City Law Center and Public Counsel.

The center will be funded by an $8.4-million grant from the Judicial Council of California, a policy-setting body for the state's courts. On Friday, the council approved seven projects across the state aimed at increasing legal representation for the indigent in noncriminal legal matters, including some domestic violence cases, child custody and housing.

victoria.kim@latimes.com

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