Tuesday, January 9, 2018 marked the launch of the Eviction Prevention and Intervention Coalition (EPIC), a 6-month pilot project designed to stabilize vulnerable families and individuals in Montgomery County who are facing eviction by providing them with free legal representation and social services on the day of their eviction hearing.
With two days of hearings under their belt, EPIC has already experienced a significant victory. Yesterday, January 10, 2018 a tenant walked into Judge Hunsicker’s Court room with a $5,000 judgement against him and his family of six. A payment of this magnitude could rock the foundation under any family and send them down the road to homelessness. This tenant came only armed with his sister-in-law to translate on his behalf. To his surprise he was greeted by Your Way Home staff, social service supports, and a pro-bono lawyer all there to help seek justice.
Within minutes of speaking with the tenant, pro-bono lawyer, Manrico A.Troncelliti, Jr, Esq. of Troncelliti Law Associates in East Norriton, came to understand his client and family were forced to move out due to uninhabitable living conditions. Upon further review, Troncelliti realized the lease was invalid – there was no case against this tenant. Troncelliti was able to negotiate with the landlord’s lawyer and come to an agreement in favor of the tenant. Judge Hunsicker dismissed the judgement against the tenant and his family and saved them from paying $5,000 and a black mark on their record.
“People in his position often get steamrolled”, said Troncelliti of his client. “This program [EPIC] provides an opportunity for people to be heard in a just-fashion – it gives them a fair shake.” Troncelliti went on to say that membership in the Bar Association has given him the opportunity to give back to the community he grew up in. “EPIC offers attorneys practical benefits. The program is helpful to the members participating as well as the people they are serving”.
“This case demonstrates that, for many renters, legal representation is critical to maintaining housing stability. EPIC pairs the goodwill of lawyers across Montgomery County with social supports to help our most vulnerable residents obtain justice and maintain safe, appropriate housing for themselves and their families.” Emma Hertz, Administrator for the Office of Housing and Community Development, Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services.
EPIC is the first program in Montgomery County that provides both financial assistance and legal representation to prevent evictions, particularly to moderate-income households who are significantly housing-cost burdened (above 125% of the poverty guideline but paying over 50% of their income towards rent). Most tenants use pro se representation during eviction hearings, and most legal evictions are due to nonpayment of rent.
The EPIC program is designed to provide limited financial assistance to prevent evictions, and referrals to the long-term financial and social supports needed to prevent future housing instability. EPIC is the result of a transformational cross-system partnership between the Montgomery Bar Association, Montgomery Bar Foundation, Montgomery County Courts, The Montgomery County Foundation, Montgomery County Office of Housing and Community Development/ Your Way Home, Pottstown Cluster of Religious Communities, and Legal Aid of Southeastern Pennsylvania.
Story submitted by Blair Dawson, Your Way Home of Montgomery County