Michigan Legal Services is a nonprofit legal services organization dedicated to eliminating systemic causes of poverty in the areas of housing, health, public benefits, and community economic development through impact-oriented legal services and support for community organizations engaged in efforts to rebuild low- income communities. Michigan Legal Services has been serving low-income communities across the state for nearly thirty years. For the past decade, it has focused its efforts in the metropolitan Detroit area where the organization is based.
In order to accomplish this mission, MLS currently operates two core programs: a public policy advocacy program in which it engages in impact-oriented litigation, legislative and administrative advocacy, and client community education; and a community legal resources program which brokers legal services provided by volunteer attorneys to meet the business law and transactional legal needs of eligible nonprofit community organizations. In addition, MLS strives to fill the gap in civil legal services in the tri-county area, for client populations that are underserved either because of overwhelming numbers, funding restrictions or isolation of the population and difficulty in providing services. Accordingly, MLS operates a pilot anti- homelessness project in a collaborative with three other agencies to address the urgent legal needs of this destitute and difficult to serve population. It also operates a program though the United Community Housing Coalition to provide direct representation to families on the brink of homelessness in Detroit, facing eviction in landlord-tenant, mortgage and tax foreclosure and land contract forfeiture cases.
Policy Advocacy The Policy Advocacy program has historically focused on three key public policy areas: Housing and Community Development, Health and Mental Health, and Public Benefits. To address root causes of poverty in these three areas, MLS has provided legal analyses to legislative and administrative decision-makers at the state, federal and local levels, and engaged in litigation to establish and clarify rights and shape policy and programs to eliminate obstacles to financial independence for low- income families and to better serve economically distressed communities.
Legal Resources for Nonprofit Organizations Rebuilding Low-Income Communities
The Community Legal Resources program connects local legal talent to nonprofit organizations engaged in efforts to rebuild low-income communities such as constructing affordable housing, attracting new businesses, feeding and sheltering the homeless, and mentoring youth. Modeled after established programs in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, DC, the formula is simple: Find ways to help nonprofits in the community that are engaged in building their neighborhoods. Provide them access to business lawyers who volunteer to review contracts, negotiate real estate sales and structure partnerships. And watch their impact grow. The legal services provided benefits the community the form of new houses, more after-school programs for youth and more beds at the shelter. Since 1998, CLR has provided legal services with an estimate value of more than 2 million dollars to 200 community organizations presenting nearly 300 legal issues, through the pro bono efforts of 250 business law attorneys. There is no other agency offering these services.
Homeless: In a collaborative with three other agencies, MLS provides legal services for this difficult to serve population which presents many urgent legal needs in the areas of public benefits, housing and domestic violence.
Families on the Brink of Homelessness: There are 40,000 eviction cases filed annually in the 36th District Court. Current combined resources of existing legal services providers is meeting less than 2% of that overwhelming need! And the need is growing exponentially as tax and mortgage foreclosures skyrocket due to predatory lending and increased unemployment. MLS also focuses on preserving tenancies in federally subsidized housing.
Undocumented persons: MLS works with an experienced Hispanic attorney to address an enormous need within this population which has been victimized by bad advice from “notario publicos”.
Prisoners: MLS represents the inmates in the Wayne County jails in a civil action concerning fire safety, medical care, food and sanitation and security and classification issues. MLS also responds to prisoner mail from across the state.