Project on Predatory Student Lending Invites Secretary DeVos to Meet with Former For-Profit College Students

Project on Predatory Student Lending Invites Secretary DeVos to Meet with Former For-Profit College Students

Betsy DeVos, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, will be speaking at Harvard University’s Kennedy School this Thursday, September 28th. In a letter to the Secretary, the Project on Predatory Student Lending has requested the Secretary meet with former students who have been harmed by the deceptive practices of for-profit colleges. The letter notes that “as the head of the Department of Education,” DeVos has “the legal authority to cancel the student debt that these borrowers face as a result of the fraudulent behavior of these predatory colleges.” Under DeVos’s leadership, the Department of Education delayed new borrower defense rules scheduled to take place July 1, 2017. These rules would have protected borrowers from deceptive practices in higher education, while making it more difficult for predatory schools to take advantage of students by, as one example, prohibiting the use of forced arbitration clauses that block students’ ability to sue their school in court.

DeVos has justified rolling back these protections by claiming, “Under the previous rules, all one had to do was raise his or her hands to be entitled to so-called free money.” This statement is a gross mischaracterization of borrower defense, and is completely out of touch with the reality facing students who have been targeted and ripped off by the predatory for-profit industry. Students face tremendous barriers in getting the Department to recognize their legal entitlement to loan cancellation. For example, Project client Sarah Dieffenbacher has petitioned the Department at least four times for borrower defense. Rather than cancel her loans, the Department used coercive measure to collect on them, including attempts at wage garnishment. Ms. Dieffenbacher, a single mother who was falsely told by Everest College that its paralegal program was accredited by the ABA and that she could transfer her credits towards a law degree, is in jeopardy of losing her car and her apartment because of the Department’s actions. Since DeVos assumed the position of Secretary of Education, The Department of Education has not acknowledged a single borrower defense application, ignoring its legal responsibility to cancel student loan debt for students who were defrauded by the illegal and deceptive practices of for-profit colleges.

Borrowers are seeking recognition of their rights, not “free money.” In fact, the only “free money” at issue is the taxpayer money that flows into the coffers of predatory for-profit colleges. As the Project on Predatory Student Lending’s letter to DeVos states, “for-profit colleges are the most tax-subsidized of any private industry. More than $30 billion in taxpayer money goes to this industry each year in the form of federal student loans.” Billions of taxpayer dollars are funneled into fraudulent corporate profit while DeVos is doing nothing to prevent this abuse.

The Project on Predatory Student Lending asks that DeVos make time to meet with former students of for-profit colleges. After hearing firsthand about the tremendous harm caused by the for-profit college industry, the Project hopes that DeVos will re-think her policies to favor students and taxpayers, not corporate profits. The Boston Globe covered the request here.

Successfully Protecting Housing Rights of Sexual Assault and Domestic Abuse Survivors

Attorneys and students in LSC’s Housing Justice for Survivors Project are working on multiple fronts to protect the rights of survivors of sexual assault and physically abusive relationships to ensure that they have safe, affordable housing. Sometimes that means helping tenants break a lease to relocate quickly. In other cases, it means fighting to help them hold onto an apartment the survivor formerly shared with an abuser.

Their efforts are leading to favorable rulings in the courts and greater understanding of state laws that protect survivors from being re-victimized.

Most recently, their work filing an amicus brief in one case has helped lead to a major court ruling in the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. That ruling ensures that even if a survivor’s name is not on a lease, even if she/he is labelled an “unauthorized occupant” by the landlord, or even if she/he is accused of fraud for living in the apartment without being on the lease, she/he still may have a valid claim to the apartment and that claim should be heard at trial.

Getting out of a lease to leave an unsafe home

Survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, or stalking often have to leave their homes with little notice or planning in order to avoid harm by a perpetrator who knows where they live.  Clients of LSC have had to leave their homes because their perpetrator lived upstairs, because they were getting ready to file criminal charges and feared retribution, because their abuser threatened their safety in and around their homes, or because their rapist worked around the corner from where they live.

One of the most pressing question clients ask when they reach out for help in these impossible situations is “What will happen if I have to break my lease?” Many fear financial penalties from the landlord, or simply believe that they will not be able to leave until the end of the contract.

Fortunately, G.L. c. 186, § 24, “Termination of rental agreement or tenancy by victim of domestic violence, rape, sexual assault or stalking” (“Section 24”), was signed into law in Massachusetts in 2013, after decades of law-reform efforts by survivors and housing advocates. Its purpose is to help survivors leave their homes for safety reasons without incurring financial penalties.

The Housing Justice for Survivors Project has represented many tenants in these situations, allowing them to relocate quickly to safer homes and a fresh start. However, Section 24 is not well known or understood, and so survivors across the Commonwealth who do not have lawyers remain trapped in unsafe living situations and unable to break free from abuse for fear of financial liability.

To familiarize legal practitioners, landlords, and tenants with the provisions of Section 24 so that its benefits may be more broadly utilized, LSC attorney Julia Devanthéry recently published an article in the Boston Bar Journal on the topic.

Fighting evictions so that survivors can stay in their homes

Another common housing crisis that survivors face is the risk of loss of housing as a result of abuse. Sometimes survivors are evicted for reasons directly related to the violence (such as damage to the apartment or disturbance of neighbors). Sometimes the eviction is a downstream effect of abuse or standing up to abuse (for example, when a survivor finally separates from an abuser and suddenly doesn’t have enough income to pay the rent each month, or the survivor is not on a lease for the shared apartment and kicking out an abuser exposes the remaining family members to loss of housing).

Unsafe housing and housing instability re-victimizes survivors, causing homelessness and tremendous loss to survivors and their families.  LSC’s Housing Justice for Survivors Project is standing with survivors to help make sure that their rights are protected by representing them in evictions and negotiations with landlords.

The Housing Justice for Survivors Project submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Judicial Court representing two leading domestic violence and sexual assault agencies, Jane Doe Inc. and Casa Myrna, in support of a tenant who was trying to protect her home after she got her abuser removed through a restraining order. Her abusive husband had repeatedly prevented her from taking the steps necessary to be added to the lease, and when he was removed from the home after she finally was able to get an abuse prevention order, the landlord moved to evict her and her children because her name was not on the lease.

In a major victory for survivors across the state and beyond, the Supreme Judicial Court in mid-September published its decision in favor of the survivor tenant in Beacon Residential v. R.P. The Court ruled that survivors of domestic violence should be allowed to intervene in eviction cases as of right (on behalf of themselves or their minor children) when they have claimed an interest in the apartment under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) or a corresponding state law.

The Court said that even if the survivor is not on the lease, is labelled an “unauthorized occupant” by the landlord, and/or is accused of fraud for living in the apartment without being on the lease, she still might have a valid claim to the apartment  and that claim should be heard at trial.

Devanthéry and three Housing Justice for Survivors students (Nino Monea, Tara Knoll and Michael Zhang) wrote the amicus brief , and worked closely with lawyers from Nutter McClennen & Fish who took the case pro bono through the Volunteer Lawyer’s Project’s Civil Appeals Clinic.  Other tenant rights experts in Boston and across the country also worked on the case, including the National Consumer Law Center, Greater Boston Legal Services, the Women’s Bar Association, and the National Housing Law Project in San Francisco.

Together the team presented a cohesive and passionate defense for survivors at risk of losing their homes and convinced the Court that the voices of survivors should be heard in eviction proceedings in order to prevent unjust loss of housing.

“It was truly a community push,” says Devanthéry, “and it couldn’t be a better outcome for survivors across the Commonwealth and beyond. ”

AP Story Quotes LSC Attorney on Delay in Cancelling Predatory For-Profit College Loans

Tens of thousands of former students who say they were swindled by for-profit colleges are being left in limbo as the Trump administration delays action on requests for loan forgiveness, according to court documents obtained by The Associated Press. The Education Department is sitting on more than 65,000 unapproved claims as it rewrites Obama-era rules that sought to better protect students.

Alec Harris, a lawyer with Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School who is representing one such student – Sarah Dieffenbacher a single mother of four who owes $50,000 in student loans —  said the inaction could put his client and her children on the street. “This is a Department of Education that has seemingly sided with industry and stacked the deck against former students of predatory for-profit schools every step of the way,” Harris said.

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LSC Reaches Out to Homeless and At-Risk Vets at Stand Down 2017

A team of lawyers from LSC’s Veterans Clinic joined staff and volunteer lawyers from Veterans Legal Services  to offer legal advice at  the 2017 Greater Boston Stand Down on September 8 at City Hall Plaza. More than 100 Veterans who are homeless or at-risk of homelessness came to the legal services tent as part of the day’s events.

Stand Downs take place across the country and bring together community providers and Veterans in one place to make it easier for Veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless to access services such as employment assistance, housing assistance, medical care, wellness programs, legal support, and prevention services.

Members of the Veterans Clinic at LSC with volunteers from Veterans Legal Services as well as the MA Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Francisco Urena

The event in Boston was organized by the New England Center and Home for Veterans.

LSC has participated in the Greater Boston Stand Down for several years, and a number of veterans who attend the event each year ultimately become LSC clients to receive in-depth legal representation on issues such as VA and disability benefits, SNAP and other public benefits, tax controversies, or issues concerning housing law, family law, estate planning, and consumer law.

LSC Alum Leading the Way for People with Disabilities

Haben Girma, a Harvard Law School alum and alum of LSC’s Disability Litigation Unit (now the Safety Net Project) , is featured on the cover of the September issue of the American Bar Association Journal for her consulting and public speaking work encouraging companies to hire people with disabilities and to develop fully accessible products and services. Girma has worked with organizations ranging from Apple and Google to Pearson Education and the American Alliance of Museums.

Before going into consulting, this former Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom fellow practiced litigation for more than two years with the nonprofit organization Disability Rights Advocates.

Girma is a first-generation immigrant who has both limited hearing and vision and refers to herself as “Deafblind.” She was named one of the ABA Journal’s Legal Rebels.

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