Best Practices & Case Studies

Civil Legal Aid and Housing Brief

Publication date: 
July, 2015
Indiana Philanthropy Alliance
Indiana Bar Foundation

Read this Issue Brief

Civil legal services help low and moderate-income people with housing problems. Many times people don’t see their housing problems as legal problems. A low-income family concerned with eviction or unsafe conditions in its home is more likely to see these conditions as personal, financial, social or bad luck problems rather than legal ones. Helping connect civil legal assistance with people in need helps solve housing problems and builds stronger communities. People who get legal help receive better housing outcomes than people who do not. For example, one study cited on the Dept. of Justice website found that 51% of tenants in eviction proceedings without lawyers lost their homes, while only 21% of tenants with lawyers lost possession

What can foundations do?

  • Identify grant programs that could have improved outcomes by adding civil legal aid partners.
  • As you review applications, look for issues that have legal ramifications (family issues, housing, homelessness, domestic violence).
  • Provide general support for legal aid groups that support your community. Partner with other funders, such as banks, looking for ways to capitalize on existing funding structures to address housing issues creatively.
  • Encourage your grantees to partner with legal aid providers to develop targeted programs (examples could include "Aska-Lawyer" phone lines or public education programs on housing issues such as foreclosure and tenant rights).

What is civil legal aid?

According to the U.S. Dept of Justice Access to Justice Initiative, civil legal aid is free legal assistance to low- and middle-income people who have [non-criminal] legal problems. These problems are non-criminal; rather, civil legal aid helps people access basic necessities such as healthcare, housing, government benefits, employment and educational services. Civil legal aid is provided free of charge by nonprofit legal aid organizations, 'pro bono' volunteers (attorneys, law students and paralegals), law schools, court-based services such as self-help centers, and online technologies such as document assembly and legal information websites.


This report is part of a series of three issue briefs on Civil Legal Aid, created in partnership between Indiana Philanthropy Alliance and Indiana Bar Foundation.

PDF icon Housing Brief.pdf894.23 KB