LITTLE FALLS, NJ -- Cathy Keenan, Executive Director of Volunteer Lawyers for Justice (VLJ), joined TAPintoTV’s Brian Brodeur to discuss the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund's Housing Stability Project Grant.
Keenan described the work of the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund (NJPRF), which was established after the COVID-19 pandemic, and which has raised over $37 million from over 60,000 donors to address the economic and human crisis that New Jersey has experienced.
"It's a really innovative grant that's trying to tackle the pending and looming eviction crisis in New Jersey head on," Keenan told Brodeur. "Even before COVID, we had an eviction crisis in this state."
The NJPRF Housing Stability Project grant awarded $465,000 to VLJ, which will be used to hire four additional full-time attorneys who will be dedicated solely to tenancy cases. Additional donations will be used to train over 200 pro-bono lawyers and cover operational and administrative expenses.
Keenan explained that prior to the pandemic, there had already been 160,000 eviction cases filed in New Jersey. "The Pandemic Relief Fund really tried to be proactive in funding some organizations that would really start tackling the crisis right now," Keenan added.
Keenan highlighted Governor Murphy's moratorium on lockouts and tenant removal, which does not prevent landlords from filing eviction notices. Keenan noted that New Jersey courts have not currently been scheduling landlord/tenant trials, and with over 30,000 cases in queue, have been moving parties towards settlement processes.
Landlords are usually represented by counsel but tenants often don't have readily accessible legal representation, and VLJ works closely with the private bar to provide legal services at no cost. "We work with lawyers who are just starting out their legal careers. So we partner with law schools and get students involved," Keenan explained, "all the way up to people who are general counsel at major corporations, heads of major law firms who are volunteering to pitch in." In 2019, VLJ had 560 lawyers volunteer their services.
Brodeur asked Keenan about the impact of lawyers volunteering their time and expertise during this crisis. "It's a call to the private bar to really help in this situation," Keenan said. "Lawyers have a professional obligation to really help the community as a whole, and volunteer lawyers have been amazing in New Jersey in responding to crisis."
Keenan highlighted the urgency of the current situation in New Jersey. "We need everyone to be able to help the tenants because there are so many cases that are going to hit the dockets in the next coming months," Keenan noted. "We're working really to get the volunteer lawyers in, get them trained, get them up and running, so that we're ready to go once the court starts implementing and rolling out cases at a higher number."
Lawyers can find more information about volunteering at VLJ's website, and tenants can speak to a legal advocate by calling the VLJ hotline: 973-943-4754.