Joe

A Housing Law Client

There’s no way I could have paid the new rent. It’s more than my disability check. There’s nowhere else I could have gone. I’ve lived in San Francisco since I was 3 years old. You look for places and they aren’t there no more … I’d be homeless now without their help.

“I worked at San Francisco Department of Public Works for seven years until a refrigerator fell on me [at work]. The city said I was OK to work, though, and they transferred me to SFO to jackhammer runways. That’s when my back gave out. The city claimed I was quitting even though I couldn’t walk, so they denied me my pension.

I’ve been living on disability since then. For the last few years, I’ve lived in a rented house in Bayview with six other family members. My rent was low thanks to Section 8.

Last year, a couple new million dollar condos went up across the street. My landlord, who had just left prison, decided he could make a few more bucks and doubled the rent. Section 8 actually passed through the increase to me, so my rent quadrupled in one month.

There’s no way I could have paid the new rent. It’s more than my disability check. There’s nowhere else I could have gone. I’ve lived in San Francisco since I was 3 years old. You look for places and they aren’t there no more. They tearing it down.

Fortunately, I heard about Open Door Legal through someone I know. They saved my home. Now, I only have to pay $90/mo. I would be homeless now without their help.”

Photography © Lauren Lombard

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.