Public Housing Applicants with a Criminal Record: MMLA and SMRLS Offer Advocacy Guide for Service Providers

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This spring, with the support of a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid (MMLA) and Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS) released “Public Housing Applicants with a Criminal Record: Advocacy Tips for Service Providers.” 


This valuable guide provides strategies and advocacy insights for providers whose clients are struggling to find affordable housing because of a challenging background or criminal record. While the guide is primarily focused on a public housing search, many of the same principles apply to other types of affordable housing. The guide also considers data on the demographics of Minnesota public housing participants, and how this data is utilized in the admissions policies of various public housing authorities. 

The guide was co-authored by Colleen Walbran, supervising attorney with MMLA, and Laura Jelinek, senior leadership attorney with SMRLS. Jelinek and Walbran, along with many staff attorneys, feel it is critical to challenge unfair, overly-broad screening practices. Unfortunately, both organizations see many cases in which landlords go too far. Walbran recently reviewed a landlord's policy stating that any applicant with a harassment conviction would be banned from applying for life.  Blanket policies are being litigated across the country under fair housing law, including the theory that these practices have a disparate impact based on race.

Read or download the guide on

Celebrate National Pro Bono Week Minnesota Style

The last week in October offers a special opportunity to celebrate the value of pro bono work by participating in Minnesota's activities as part of National Pro Bono Week. The ABA's country-wide effort, highlighting local action and celebration, promotes recruitment of volunteers, recognition of the efforts of current pro bono volunteers, and seeks to increase support and collaboration. Pro bono plays a vital role in closing the justice gap by helping to increase the number of low-income individuals who can get legal advice at crucial moments.

As part of the local celebration, the Minnesota State Bar Association is hosting “Beyond Status: Meeting the Legal Needs of Today’s Immigrants.” The CLE will take place on Tuesday, October 24th at midday, hosted at the offices of Stinson Leonard Street. Presenters include pro bono attorneys and legal aid staff who will discuss ways they serve immigrant clients in housing, employment, public benefits, DACA and preparedness matters. Immigration is continually in the news, but the legal needs of immigrants extend beyond status. Noting the need for this topic, moderator Emily Good of Legal Services State Support, said “because of their status, their language, their race, immigrants’ legal problems can be amplified and complicated.” Registration for this event, as well as a full schedule of events around Minnesota for the week, are available on

ProJusticeMN: Brand New Design and Intuitive Features


State Support is pleased to announce a brand new design and custom features for its dedicated professional community website. Freshly redesigned, ProJusticeMN curates content specific to the site’s two primary audiences: the legal aid community and volunteer attorneys. Here are some of the great new custom features on the mobile-responsive site:

  • A new design for the Case Placement Tool that highlights the estimated time commitment, the skill level needed to assist with the case, which skills are developed, and whether the organization posting the case offers mentorship, free training, and/or malpractice insurance.
  • New Library functionality allows you to quickly and easily navigate the library folders and offers new search and filter capabilities.
  • The Calendar features a new user-friendly design and improved search filters.

If you're not yet a member, join us today! If you have questions or feedback about the site, contact Jennifer Singleton at We'd love to hear from you!

Rise in Minnesota Volunteer Attorneys

Minnesota Lawyer recently covered the marked surge in legal services volunteerism, speaking with staff from Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid (MMLA) and Volunteer Lawyers Network (VLN).

"Over the last couple of months, we’ve seen an increase in attorneys wanting to volunteer,” said Kirsten Olson, staff attorney and pro bono director at MMLA in Minneapolis. “That includes solo practitioners, larger-firm attorneys and even people who are out of the main legal arena right now such as retired attorneys and those working in education.”

One of the areas seeing vigorous interest is immigration law. “I think it does have to do with the election,” said Olson. “A lot of people say their interest in getting involved right now has been triggered by the change in the political environment and the ways that laws are being interpreted.” Olson also mentioned disability rights, gender justice and senior issues as areas of interest from volunteer attorneys.

Julie Thelen, development coordinator with the Volunteer Lawyers Network in Minneapolis noted, “We have monthly training sessions for about 800 volunteer lawyers every year. There’s a lot of demand for help serving undocumented (immigrant) clients, as well as need for lawyers who work in family and employment law.”

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Both organizations, and most that coordinate volunteer lawyers, offer in-person training in specialized areas of law as well as printed materials. Staff tailor work to direct volunteer skills where they’re needed, and many organizations offer malpractice insurance.

The website aggregates volunteer opportunities for many of the state's legal services organizations and offers a case placement tool, opportunities to quickly offer legal advice online, and a guide for pro bono opportunities, among other services. Read the full article.