Pauline

Housing Law Client

Suddenly, my rent increased by $2,000. That was more than my income. I felt filled to the brim with stress. This is where my family celebrated Christmas – getting evicted meant losing my family’s home base.

“When I was little, my grandma got sick. My whole family moved from Dallas to the Bay Area to take care of her. I am incredibly close with my family, especially my twin sister. She’s my confidant.

Decades later, I still live in San Francisco. I take care of my nephew, and we live in a two-bedroom home. I’ve lived on a fixed income for a while, but my housing voucher keeps my rent manageable.

That all changed when I got a new landlord. Suddenly, my rent increased by $2,000. That was more than my income. I felt filled to the brim with stress. This is where my family celebrated Christmas – getting evicted meant losing my family’s home base. I talked to the person I had always gone to: my twin.

I told her how I was afraid I’d end up homeless and that I was going to fight back. ‘You can’t win this case on your own,’ she advised me. ‘You need to get some help.’ That’s when I found Open Door Legal.

The second I arrived at Open Door Legal, I felt welcomed. The attorneys calmed down; they gave me a cup of coffee, comforted me, and offered support. When you’re stressed, it can feel like you’re blind, but once I walked through those doors, I could see again.

My attorneys discovered that the rent increase was a result of the management company reclassifying my home as a 3 bedroom, despite the 3rd ‘room’ being so small you could barely fit a twin bed. My housing voucher would only cover a 2 bedroom.

They helped me devise a plan: my granddaughter and her son were going to move in with me. This would allow me to qualify for the 3 bedroom voucher– I could stay in my home.

Now, they’ve officially moved in and I finally feel secure again. I’m back to doing what I love most in the world: spending time with my family.”

Photography © Jona Bocari

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.