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California Eviction Defense: Protecting Low-Income Tenants 2020

Speaker(s): Brandon Lawrence, Hai Dao, Lili Graham, Lisa Kye Young Kim, Lolita Fernandes, Madeline S. Howard, Matt Warren, Melissa A. Morris, Monique Berlanga, Nadia Aziz, Shirley Gibson
Recorded on: Mar. 4, 2020
PLI Program #: 274916

Monique Berlanga is the Executive Director of Centro Legal de la Raza, a non-profit legal service provider working to protect and advance the rights of low-income, immigrant, Black, and Latinx communities through bilingual legal representation, education, and advocacy.

Prior to taking the helm as ED, Monique let Centro’s Tenants’ Rights Practice as the Directing Attorney. Under Monique’s leadership, Centro Legal’s Tenants’ Rights Practice grew from a team of six to over forty and provided legal services to over 2,500 tenants last year alone. The Practice is partnering with Alameda County to administer over $130 million in federal rental assistance. Prior to joining Centro Legal, Monique worked as a housing staff attorney with Bay Area Legal Aid where her practice focused on eviction defense in the context of subsidized housing and representation of tenants in fair housing matters. Prior to that, Berlanga spent five years as the managing attorney of the Eviction Defense Center in Oakland, where she litigated over 1,500 cases on behalf of low-income tenants facing eviction from their homes in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties.

An East Bay native, she has personal and professional insight to the political, economic, and social climate in the East Bay. Monique holds a Juris Doctor degree from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, and has over 10 years of public interest litigation experience. Monique was the recipient of the Hon. Cruz Reynoso Social Justice Fellowship. She was recently elected to serve as a Board Member of East Bay Housing Organizations (EBHO).

Brandon Lawrence is the Supervising Attorney in the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley’s Housing practice.  In this role, he supervises a team of attorneys that provide full-scope representation for tenants unlawful detainer actions, which includes work on preparing answers, engaging in settlement negotiations, representation in bench and jury trials, and drafting and arguing post-judgment motions, discovery, settlement agreements, and other trial documents.  Prior to joining Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, Brandon worked as an intern and eventually a staff attorney at both the Eviction Defense Collaborative and the AIDS Legal Referral Panel.  A long-time tenant’s right advocate, Brandon has both provided advice to and represented clients in a variety of housing issues, including eviction cases, Rent Board proceedings, administrative hearings, grievance hearings, and reasonable accommodation meetings.  

Brandon is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University and earned his JD from the University of San Francisco School of Law.

Hai Dao serves as deputy director of the housing practice at the East Bay Community Law Center, where he defends low-income tenants in unlawful detainer actions and represents tenants at administrative hearings in front of the rent board and local housing authorities. Prior to EBCLC, Hai worked as a housing attorney at the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley and Bay Area Legal Aid.

Lili Graham is Litigation Counsel in the Civil Rights Practice Group at Disability Rights California.  Her work focuses on systemic and impact advocacy and litigation for low-income clients with disabilities.  Primarily, Lili has focused on affordable housing preservation and homelessness advocacy.  She was the former Director of Litigation at Community Legal Aid SoCal, formerly Legal Aid Society of Orange County/Community Legal Services. Prior to that role, Lili was the directing attorney of the Homelessness Prevention and Housing Unit at Public Law Center and was a former public defender in Ramsey County, Minnesota.

Lisa Kim is the Supervising Attorney of the Housing Law Unit of the San Francisco County Regional office of Bay Area Legal Aid. In her current position, she is overseeing BayLegal's implementation and participation in the Tenant Right to Counsel program. 

Lisa has also represented low-income and disabled clients in Unlawful Detainers and administrative hearings with BayLegal's offices in San Francisco County, Contra Costa County, and Santa Clara County. In addition she supervised legal clinics and provided trainings for attorneys, advocates, and community members on housing rights. Lisa earned her Bachelor's Degree from University of California, Berkeley and her Juris Doctorate from Loyola University New Orleans College of Law.

Lolita Fernandes is a Senior Attorney in the Housing Unit at Bay Area Legal Aid's San Francisco office. She provides direct legal representation to low-income tenants in San Francisco in unlawful detainers, administrative hearings with the local housing authority, and fair housing cases. She specializes in defending subsidized housing tenants and enforcing VAWA protections for survivors. Lolita worked with Eviction Defense Collaborative prior to joining Bay Area Legal Aid. She graduated from USC Gould School of Law with an LLM in 2011. Lolita is licensed to practice law in California and India.

Madeline is a senior staff attorney at Western Center on Law & Poverty focusing on fair housing litigation, unlawful detainer appeals, and issues impacting tenants in foreclosed homes. Before joining Western Center in 2013, Madeline was a senior staff attorney with Bay Area Legal Aid in San Jose and San Francisco where she represented the interests of low-income tenants against landlords and major lending institutions. At Western Center Madeline partners with legal services attorneys on impact litigation to challenge discriminatory housing practices and preserve affordable housing. She also supports direct services attorneys through technical assistance and training on issues ranging from unlawful detainer appeals to fair housing rights. Madeline received her law degree from Berkeley after working as an advocate at Medical-Legal Partnership Boston, the nation’s first medical-legal collaborative. She went on to become a research attorney at San Francisco Superior Court before returning to direct services work.

Matthew Warren is a Staff Attorney with the Western Center on Law & Poverty in our housing practice.  Prior to Western Center, he served as a Senior Attorney at the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley in their housing division.  His work included litigating fair housing matters in state and federal courts, direct service of indigent clients facing eviction, and advocating for the production and preservation of affordable housing locally.  Matt believes that safe, stable housing is a fundamental human right, and through his practice, he strives to expand housing opportunity for marginalized communities and people of color.

Matt graduated from Santa Clara University School of Law, where he was a Dean’s Fellow. He received a Master of Arts in Social Justice and Human Rights from Arizona State University, and he received his undergraduate degree from Gonzaga University.  Matt lives in Oakland with his partner, Kristin, and their all-black cat, Sasha.

Melissa A. Morris is a Staff Attorney with the Public Interest Law Project, a statewide support center for legal aid programs throughout California.  Melissa’s work at PILP includes litigation in state and federal court on behalf of low-income individuals and families regarding access to California public benefits programs, affordable housing, fair housing, and the rights of people experiencing homelessness; as well as legislative and administrative advocacy regarding housing and public benefits issues.  Melissa also regularly provides training and technical assistance to legal aid attorneys and other advocates on topics including disability rights, California public benefits programs, eviction defense, criminalization of homelessness, affordable housing policy, mobile home park preservation, and rent control.

Prior to joining PILP in 2018, Melissa worked for 12 years at the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, where her practice included direct client representation, impact litigation, and policy advocacy regarding housing, public benefits, voting rights, consumer issues, and the rights of people with disabilities in institutional settings.  Much of her work at the Law Foundation focused on preventing the displacement of low-income tenants and communities of color from Silicon Valley; this work included representing individuals, families, and resident groups at risk of displacement in court and administrative proceedings, advocating for state and local policies to designed to prevent displacement and increase the supply of affordable housing, and working with community groups and low-income tenants to build political power among the people most affected by Silicon Valley's housing crisis.

Melissa began her legal career in 2004 as a Borchard Foundation Center on Law & Aging Fellow at Legal Aid of Marin, where she represented low-income and senior residents of Marin County in housing, domestic violence, elder abuse, and consumer matters.

Nadia Aziz is the Housing Directing Attorney at the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley.  Nadia has led groundbreaking housing litigation and policy advocacy throughout Silicon Valley in her role at the Law Foundation.  Her work includes a multi-year effort to save Palo Alto’s only mobile home park, and class action fair housing litigation that asserted the right of Section 8 voucher holders to reasonable accommodations for additional bedrooms.  Before working at the Law Foundation, Nadia was a housing attorney with Bay Area Legal Aid's Santa Clara County office where she represented tenants in unlawful detainer matters. Nadia graduated from UCLA School of Law in 2007.  Nadia is married and has two daughters.

Shirley Gibson is Directing Attorney with the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County. Shirley came to LASSMC in 2007 to develop the housing practice and eviction defense program, which has grown over the past decade to provide direct legal services to over 1,200 tenant households each year. Before coming to Legal Aid, Shirley was a staff attorney at Eviction Defense Collaborative in San Francisco for five years, where she helped pilot San Francisco’s day-of-court representation program for pro per tenants in settlement conferences and the Family Eviction Prevention Consortium rental assistance program. As an associate with the Law Offices of Tim A. Pori, Shirley represented plaintiffs in civil rights and bad faith actions. She has a B.A. from Reed College and a J.D. from New College of California School of Public Interest Law.