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

Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services Releases Racial Justice Report to Community


This spring, the Racial Justice Committee (RJC) of Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS) released its 2017 Report to the Community.

The 2017 report highlights SMRLS'
ongoing involvement with several healthcare - legal partnerships, its expungement clinics work in St. Paul, and its “Know Your Rights” anti-offensive speech outreach events.

The annual report has three primary purposes:

  • Create awareness of how SMRLS is involved within the community;
  • Create awareness of the programs that SMRLS offers; and
  • Create awareness of the services that are available within the community.

The Racial Justice Committee serves to welcome all clients, encourage and support a diverse staff, and advocate effectively to eliminate barriers for persons of color and to ensure their equal access to and fair treatment by SMRLS and the legal system. Read the full report

Sneak Peek: Conference Schedule 2017 Online Now!

With the official launch of registration only one month away (Sept. 6), State Support is excited to unveil a sneak peek at the wide array of sessions planned for the Legal Services Statewide Conference in October. This year's conference, "Connecting With Our Community," provides conference-goers with up to 13.75 hours of practical and meaningful CLE credit, along with the annual awards banquet, and opportunities to network and relax with statewide colleagues. On Thursday evening, October 26, the conference itinerary will feature a special screening of the Academy Award-nominated documentary 13th. Named for the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the film was directed by Ava DuVernay and is a Netflix original documentary. It takes an in-depth look at the racial inequality in the United States prison system, focusing on the criminalization of African Americans and the prison boom.

If books are more your style, join your colleagues on Wednesday evening, October 25, in a thought-provoking conversation about Bryan Stevenson’s bestselling memoir, Just Mercy.  A powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice, Just Mercy will engage our minds and inspire us to continue pursuing justice for all.

Start planning your personal itinerary now, and join us at Arrowwood Resort and Conference Center October 25 - 27, 2017.  Look for the official registration invitation in your inbox, or check SCHED for registration links starting on September 6. See you at the conference!

MMLA Succeeds in Asserting Racial Discrimination as Eviction Defense #WeAreLegalAid

Two Legal Aid clients faced termination of their tenancies and evictions from the same landlord. Both tenants have experienced long-term homelessness in the past.  Eviction would have doomed them to it again.

Joey Dobson, staff attorney with Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid (MMLA), and the tenants’ case managers, suspected the landlord’s true motivations were illegal: he wanted to evict the two tenants because of their race—African American—and because one of them had reported his failure to treat the building for bed bugs.  Dobson had some circumstantial indicators of racism and retaliation, but little hard evidence.  She took a deposition of the landlord, who didn't make any overtly racist statements.  But the assumptions he made about his tenants were striking, and he lacked a good excuse for the different ways he treated another similarly-situated white tenant.

It was still a very tough case to prove in court.  Dobson was joined by supervising attorney Colleen Walbran, who recently joined MMLA. Walbran immediately plugged in her years of experience with housing discrimination, and the cases were tried back-to-back on the same day in favor of the clients. Managing attorney Luke Grundman said, “It’s the first time in recent memory that Legal Aid succeeded in asserting racial discrimination as a defense in an eviction case.”  Cheers for these undaunted lawyers! #WeAreLegalAid