Cassaundra

A Housing Law Client

My landlord gave me a 30-day notice, saying he was going to move in. He harassed me and made my life miserable. He left me without heating for months. He let me live with dead rodents and refused to patch a hole in the roof. I went to the Mayor’s office for help, and they referred me to an org who said they couldn’t help me. But walking down Third Street, I saw the sign for Open Door Legal and decided to come in.

“I only remember living in Bayview and nowhere else. Dad was in the Navy. Mom worked at the shipyard and at a cleaners. In the 60s this neighborhood was very family oriented. When the street light came on, you knew you’d better come home or you’d hear about it. It’s sad, the new generation is shooting and killing each other. Even the girls are shooting now.

My landlord gave me a 30-day notice, saying he was going to move in. He harassed me and made my life miserable. He left me without heating for months. He let me live with dead rodents and refused to patch a hole in the roof. I went to the Mayor’s office for help, and they referred me to an org who said they couldn’t help me. But walking down Third Street, I saw the sign for Open Door Legal and decided to come in.

My sister taught me, “You don’t give up. You keep working. Someone will open a door.” That’s what Open Door Legal does. They open doors. They helped me get a higher lottery number so I could get new housing sooner. And they helped me stay in my home for a long time while I looked for housing. I was able to move into a large, new apartment building in Bayview, and I don’t ever have to worry about a landlord moving in and kicking me out.

My new place even has a gym, which has allowed me to get healthy and take care of myself!”

Photography © Dale Tan

Ever since childhood, our co-founder Adrian has been dedicated to reducing poverty.

He studied systemic poverty in college and went to work in the field for a few years. Eventually, he had a thesis that legal aid was the most cost-effective way to address poverty in America. He wrote up a business plan and used it to apply to law school. 

The idea was to create the country’s first system of universal access to civil legal representation that ensures everyone can obtain timely, competent legal help for any legal issue, regardless of ability to pay. That had never been done before in the history of the United States.

In law school, he met Virginia, our Programs Director. Together, they co-founded the organization, two weeks after Adrian passed the bar.

When we opened we put a sign in the window, and with just that marketing and almost no other outreach we were overwhelmed with requests for help from people with good cases who had been turned away everywhere else.

Our first year we had revenue of $35,000. We would hand shred documents because a shredder was too expensive. Despite the financial challenges, we were able to work on over 280 cases in everything from housing law to family law to consumer law in the first year alone.

The hours were extreme, the pay was low, and the learning curve was steep. Still, we persisted. We knew that almost everyone we helped was not able to receive services anywhere else. Eventually, we attracted the interest of funders. We tripled our revenue for several years in a row. In 2015, we won the Bay Area Google Impact Challenge, which enabled us to expand even more. In 2019, we secured additional funding from the city that allowed us to open two new centers in the Excelsior and Western Addition.

As of 2020, our staff has grown to 27 full-time employees. We’ve shown that universal access is possible. Now, we plan to scale city-wide, make San Francisco the first city in the country’s history to have universal access to legal help, and become a model for national replication.