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Community Development Law Clinic Highlights

Tuesday, January 15, 2008  
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The CDLC was fortunate to have seventeen students and three teaching assistants working in the clinic during the Spring semester.   As a mid-sized law firm, we divided into two practice groups:  one focusing on small business and nonprofit cases, and the other working primarily on housing and tenant purchase cases.  In addition to working on individual cases, the students in each practice group worked on collaborative projects dedicated to policy and law reform issues.  Some of the highlights of our work follow.

Nancy CombsThe seven students assigned to the small business and nonprofit practice group represented twenty-four clients in various stages of business or nonprofit formation.  The following is a sampling of some of the interesting entities the students assisted.  Eliza Bangit helped a budding jewelry entrepreneur get her business established and licensed in the District of Columbia.  She also assisted a nonprofit organization dedicated to African health issues with tax and governance issues.  Nancy Combs provided a legal memorandum to an entrepreneur who wants to start a pontoon boat lounge on the Potomac River.  She also assisted a nonprofit organization working on community development issues in the Shaw neighborhood of the District.  Candice Ellison drafted the application form to procure tax-exempt status for a fledgling D.C. nonprofit seeking to assist students in developing art and entrepreneurship skills.  Brandi Garcia worked with a group of three psychologists seeking to set up a practice focusing on mental health for minority youth in the District.  Alea Harmon worked with an events promoter who organizes concerts in D.C. venues, helping him to form a legal entity and address licensing and liability questions.  Dan McMahon filed trademark applications for a female physician who is marketing health and education products for young minority women.  Suzanne Sable assisted a nonprofit organization that provides social services in Anacostia in responding to questions from the IRS about its tax-exempt status.  Ajene Turnbull helped form a company specializing in international travel to Tibet, providing advice about insurance and liability issues.

The nine students assigned to the housing group represented resident associations in five apartment complexes in varying stages of resident control and ownership. Audrey Orteza, Shane Mackey and Leigh Snyder represented a cooperative that had acquired a former slum property in 2003 and was just nearing completion of a major renovation of the building. In collaboration with lawyers from Crowell & Moring and the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, Damon Adams, Christopher May and Maria Mier assisted a tenant association in its effort to preserve federal subsidies and to enforce its right to purchase a building in the rapidly gentrifying Columbia Heights area. The same team worked with a tenant association in Northeast D.C., which had recently purchased its property and was just beginning the redevelopment process. Adrianna Vlacich-Ceppetelli, Alejandro Soto-Vigil, and Sudani Davis assisted a tenant association, which had also recently purchased its building and was engaged in an effort to secure financing and to complete its construction plan.  Chris May and Damon Adams also assisted a cooperative that had owned its property for several decades, but was seeking to substantially revise its organizational documents and achieve better management of its property.

Ajene TurnbullIn addition to all of their casework, students performed excellent service to the community with their collaborative projects.  Alea Harmon, Suzanne Sable and Ajene Turnbull planned and presented a workshop on Nonprofit Organizations.  Fourteen representatives of prospective nonprofit organizations attended the workshop, where they viewed a Powerpoint presentation explaining both the D.C. and the IRS requirements for forming an organization and procuring tax-exempt status.   Attendees were interested in a wide variety of projects, from community revitalization to early education for children and families.  At the end of the session, several organizations applied for legal representation from the clinic or the D.C. Pro Bono Project, while others left eager to work on their mission statements and business plans.

Eliza Bangit, Nancy Combs and Dan McMahon worked on a project involving the new vending laws in the District of Columbia.  Until recently, D.C. had a moratorium on new street vendors.  The city is now in the process of releasing new vending sites, starting first in the central business district, and eventually extending to D.C. neighborhoods.  One of the goals of the new vending regulations is to encourage entrepreneurship and diversity in the District’s vending program.  To that end, Eliza created an informational packet that walks prospective vendors, who may not have much experience with business or D.C. regulations, through the process of obtaining a vending license.  Her packet will be distributed to prospective applicants at an upcoming vending fair sponsored by the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.  Another goal of the vending program is to involve neighborhoods in incorporating vending into their revitalization plans.  Nancy prepared a Powerpoint presentation to explain the vending program to community organizations and to encourage them to participate in establishing creative vending programs in their neighborhoods.  She presented her work to Samuel Williams, Manager of Special Events and Vending at the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, who has expressed interest in working with the CDLC clinic to encourage community participation in the vending program.

Brandi GarciaCandice Ellison and Brandi Garcia worked on a project with the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) to investigate potential discrimination in the housing insurance market in New Orleans.  Looking at census data and other public records both pre- and post- Hurricane Katrina, they attempted to determine whether insurance companies in New Orleans treated homeowners in some parts of the city (inhabited primarily by African-Americans) differently from homeowners in other parts of the city (inhabited primarily by Whites).  This ongoing project involved looking at the kinds of insurance policies offered, the terms of the policies (such as deductibles and replacement value), payouts on claims, and other data that might indicate disparate treatment.  The NCRC is interested in the research results to help it determine whether to file impact litigation in New Orleans.   In a separate project with NCRC, Shane Mackey and Leigh Snyder began an investigation of certain practices by local realtors that could have a potential discriminatory impact on immigrant populations.

Working with the Coalition for Non Profit Housing and Economic Development, Maria Mier, Audrey Orteza and Adrianna Vlacich-Ceppetelli conducted an extensive review of legislative measures in other states that seek to preserve affordable housing.   The research will assist local housing advocates in considering ways to address the potential loss of affordable housing units that are anticipated when current Section 8 contracts expire.


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