“My landlord is trying to evict me.”
“My ex-partner is trying to keep me from seeing my kids.”
“Someone tried to destroy my property.”
These are scenarios you wouldn’t wish upon your worst enemy. Unfortunately, they’re issues that affect low-income Americans at a startling rate. In fact, low-income Americans experience two to three issues like this every year. Even worse, many people don’t have the resources to help overcome these problems — that is, until now.
Currently, there’s about one legal aid attorney for every 6,500 eligible low-income Americans. This means a majority of families are simply unable to fight back against these civil rights issues.
This injustice is the precise reason why Adrian Tirtanadi, a Zenefits customer, decided to start Bayview/Hunters Point Community Legal — a San Francisco-based nonprofit dedicated to providing universal access to legal representation. Their mission is to prove that justice for everyone is possible.
It’s no easy task, but Tirtanadi believes there’s a critical need for low-income families to know they have access to legal assistance.
“When you’re middle class, there are a lot of things that you take for granted. Plus you have a default belief that people you deal with will treat you fairly,” Tirtanadi explains. “When you’re poor, you don’t have that belief. You keep your guard up.”
This is the sad truth that Tirtanadi and his team are trying to fight. And they’re doing it one family at a time.
With every case Bayview closes, they hope to empower low-income families understanding that a person’s ability to enforce important civil rights should not depend on their income.
To emphasize his message, Tirtanadi shared a story that involved three generations of a family living under one very unlivable roof. Their home lacked electricity and plumbing, but had a ton of mold and moths that would eat at their clothing.
When they decided to move out of their unlivable apartment, they noticed that their lease said they would be responsible for all necessary repairs. As a result, their landlord took their $4,000 deposit and charged them an additional $15,000 for structural damage (even though the damages were already there when they moved in).
With a debt of $19,000 and a landlord that wouldn’t stop harrassing them, the family reached out to Bayview to see what their options were. What they learned was that they actually had options and that the landlord was trying to take advantage of them.
Bayview uncovered that the landlord’s lease was unwarranted and that he could not force them to pay $19,000. Bayview also helped the family get back their $4,000 deposit and got the $15,000 in damages dropped.
Outside of the monetary impact, however, Bayview helped this family realize that they deserved to be treated equally, no matter their income. And they continue to do this great work on a larger scale.
In just under four years (they opened their doors on January 7, 2013) they have:
They’ve also quantified their social ROI, and it’s pretty impressive. A 2016 analysis conducted by the Robin Hood Foundation found that for every dollar Bayview spends on programs and overhead, they:
And while the social impact is remarkable, their means for effecting so much change — especially given their minimal funds — is extremely inspiring.
“We started with less than a $35,000 budget,” says Tirtanadi. They’re in a better position with their finances today, but like any nonprofit, limited funds mean they need to make their dollars stretch.
In addition to the hard-working attorneys and volunteers that contribute to Bayview, Tirtanadi credits part of Bayview’s impact and success to the technology that they’ve incorporated into their workflow.
“There’s very little funding for legal aid, so we have to maximize efficiency wherever we can. Every minute and dollar matters,” says Tirtanadi. He adds that technology has allowed them to save time, money, and resources.
“Since Xero is cloud-based, it’s online and everyone is able to see the same file,” Tirtanadi says of the accounting technology. “It’s integrated with Zenefits payroll, which makes everything so simple. It’s also half the price of other accounting software.”
But Xero isn’t the only technology they use. They also field their cases through a custom form on their site that gets routed onto Salesforce.
If you’d like to get involved and help contribute to the mission of Bayview/Hunters Point Community Legal, it’s easy.
“Volunteers allow us to expand our impact far beyond what we could achieve otherwise. And in return we provide the opportunity for you to expand your professional skills while learning about the issues facing people in marginalized communities,” says Tirtanadi.
Bayview utilizes volunteers across a full range of services and operations, including investigations, case management, and communications. Get involved now.
This article was originally published as a guest blog post on the Xero blog.