With its integrated Housing Counseling, Information, & Litigation Project, the Legal Aid Service of Northeastern Minnesota (LASNEM) demonstrates its commitment to the housing needs of low-income people in northern St. Louis County. The Project's goal is to ensure and preserve safe and affordable housing options by providing litigation, conflict resolution, and legal counsel in four primary areas:
- Eviction Defense – both post-filing and pre-filing of court eviction;
- Income maintenance – public benefits, unemployment issues, wage and garnishment matters, Social Security termination, spousal maintenance and child support;
- Safe housing – repair and habitability as well as Fair Housing issues; and
- Housing denials – Subsidized housing application denials and private housing discrimination.
LASNEM is unique as the sole legal component in the area's housing continuum. In its collaboration with community service providers such as the Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency (AEOA), Range Transitional Housing (RTH), Range Mental Health Center (RMHC) and St. Louis County, LASNEM's Housing Counseling, Information, & Litigation Project seeks creative solutions to housing the homeless and maintaining housing for those at risk in an area where affordable rental housing is in short supply. The Project actively participates in the Coordinated Entry System (CES), attending and leading weekly shelter meetings that address solutions for every homeless household in northern St. Louis County. LASNEM assists approximately 400 households with housing related issues each year, and provides legal information, education, and guidance to its community partners about changes in housing laws and community housing trends.
Because of the often adversarial, costly, and time-consuming nature of the Court process, LASNEM has developed strong working relationships with landlords – both public and private – in order to be involved in addressing issues before they reach the Court system. These relationships help prevent litigation and obtain the best outcome for the tenant, with less time and cost for the landlord. Landlords are also asked to refer tenants at risk of losing housing, or being denied housing, to LASNEM.
The Project conducts landlord forums as needed to address systemic issues, as well as educational events on relevant landlord- tenant law. The Project also works closely with housing providers and social service agencies to keep abreast of issues and to work on systemic and individual solutions.
LASNEM’s housing advocate, Heather Lindula, represents the legal aid perspective in several community capacities such as the Rural Housing Coalition, and the Heading Home St. Louis County Governance Board. She actively participates in the Prevention Rapid Rehousing subcommittee of the Governance Board, chairs the Coordinated Entry subcommittee, and is the Coordinated Entry Planner for northern St. Louis County. Last year, Lindula was instrumental in implementing the first annual Northern St. Louis County Housing Summit, which identified barriers to housing and possible solutions. LASNEM’s managing attorney, Bill Maxwell, provides legal work for Habitat for Humanity and is a member of the Board of Directors of Range Transitional Housing.
As part of its commitment to community education, LASNEM conducts monthly trainings on the rights and responsibilities of renters at Merritt House – a treatment facility for individuals with significant mental health and chemical dependency needs – and at area schools and other gatherings of community members. Through these efforts, LASNEM improves awareness of housing rights and mitigates future housing problems.