2022 Annual Report
Pictured: Legal Aid client Debra Moore and her daughter
Dear Friends of Legal Aid,
This year brought many challenges, but we are so grateful to supporters like you for continuing to help make justice real for our clients.
It has been a difficult year for many DC residents as rising costs made it harder to make ends meet, but, as always, our clients have inspired us with their courage and perseverance.
Your generosity helped individuals like Debra Moore reunite with her daughter, Raelin, after a custody dispute disrupted their lives. You can read more about their story in the enclosed mailer, and our full annual report online has even more stories about Legal Aid’s impact this year.
Legal Aid’s systemic advocacy also helped thousands across the District. Former clients and attorneys worked together to advocate for landmark legislation preventing unfair debt collection, new protections for tenants and homeowners, and expanded access to foreclosure relief programs.
As we prepare for 2023, we’re aware that economic uncertainty might have a disproportionately negative impact on our client community. We’re able to continue working on behalf of DC residents because of supporters like you. As a friendly reminder, a donation of $390 is enough to staff an attorney for one day and $1,950 will staff an attorney for an entire week. Just think of what a Legal Aid lawyer can do in a day or a week.
Thank you so much for your past and ongoing support.
President, Board of Trustees
Dear Friends of Legal Aid,
Although the past year has remained challenging for many of us, Legal Aid’s client-eligible community has continued to struggle with the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic which has revealed and exacerbated the impacts of structural racism. While unemployment rates have dramatically decreased for the District overall, the rates for Wards 7 and 8 (where the majority of residents are Black) were 12.2 percent and 10.8 percent, respectively, in August 2022, compared to 3.1 percent in Ward 3 (where the majority of residents are white). And while overall rates of COVID deaths and hospitalizations have decreased, there are still racial disparities in the number of deaths. In March 2022, whites in the District comprised 21 percent of COVID cases and 13 percent of deaths compared to Black people who represented 57 percent of cases and 72 percent of deaths and Hispanic/Latinx DC residents who comprised 14 percent of cases and 13 percent of deaths.
It has been a challenge for many of us. Rising costs combined with the continuing damage of the COVID-19 pandemic have made it even harder to make ends meet. In DC, overall prices are up 6.5 percent from last year. The average cost of rent has increased by 9 percent. And, as we know, the impact of this inflation is hitting our client-eligible community the hardest.
But there have also been many achievements that inspired hope. This year included many systemic victories that provided protection for everyone across the District. A new debt collection bill overhauled DC’s archaic existing laws, extending consumer protections and implementing safeguards against predatory debt collectors. An extension of the foreclosure moratorium prevented families from losing their homes for 28 months, from May of 2020 to September of 2022. Legal Aid’s advocacy work was integral to getting these protections enacted and implemented.
And our clients continue to inspire us in 2022. They often are facing extremely difficult circumstances when they meet us. Whether they are facing the loss of a home, struggling to navigate the public benefits system, or trying to secure custody of their child, their legal situations are challenging. However, our clients are more than the sum of their legal problems. Their optimism and commitment to overcoming obstacles continues to inspire us in all of our work.
As we remain hopeful, we are also aware of the challenges ahead. The foreclosure moratorium has expired, and an estimated 9,000 DC residents are behind on their mortgage payments. The possibility of a recession could mean increases in unemployment, specifically for Black workers. DC residents are still struggling to access the benefits and programs for which they are eligible. Without action, the upcoming year could be disastrous for our neighbors in the District.
We are so proud of the work the Legal Aid’s staff and clients have done in the past year, and we’re prepared to continue that work to ensure that everyone has access to justice in DC. Record-breaking support from the DC legal community has allowed us to achieve so much, but we have a long road ahead.
We’re excited to share this report with you highlighting our work over the past year. As you read, we hope that you’ll see the courage and persistence of our clients. Their tenacity inspires us every day.
Thank you for all of your support in our effort to make justice real.
P.S. We are so grateful to our clients who agreed to share their stories and to be photographed and to Alison DeSilva, our wonderful photographer who offered her pro bono services for the Annual Report for the third year.
Debra Moore came to Legal Aid after losing custody of her five-year-old daughter, Raelin. For Raelin’s entire life, she had lived with Ms. Moore and visited her father on weekends, but in August of 2021, two stray bullets came through Ms. Moore’s window. Ms. Moore contacted the police and asked Raelin’s paternal grandmother to watch her for a few days as she dealt with repairing the damage. Raelin’s grandmother took her to stay with her father. Ms. Moore’s intention was that Raelin would then return to her care after a few days.
Raelin’s father filed for sole custody, asking the Court to drastically alter the informal custody arrangement that their daughter had for her entire life. Initially, the judge agreed and only allowed Ms. Moore to have very limited visitation with her daughter, stating that she was concerned with Raelin’s safety if she went back to live with Ms. Moore. She also appointed guardian ad litems (GALs) to investigate the case.
Ms. Moore knew of Legal Aid from a previous housing issue and reached out to see if we could assist her in this situation, and attorney Melanie Sandler took the case. Over a period of eight months, Melanie helped advocate for Raelin and Ms. Moore to be reunited, arguing that Ms. Moore was not responsible for the stray bullet incident, and that she had done everything she could to keep Raelin safe.
“What really impacted me was the time I spent away from my child," Ms. Moore said. "But I had a team behind me. And Melanie was the line leader of everything.”
After a thorough investigation by the GALs, the judge ordered that Raelin would live with Ms. Moore full time again, and gave visitation to Raelin’s father, which was very similar to the informal arrangements the parents had before. The judge denied Raelin’s father’s request for sole custody.
Preventing Evictions & Ensuring Access to Safe Housing
Advocating for Immigrants and Survivors
Heading Off a Foreclosure Crisis
Ensuring Access to Public Benefits
Pro Bono Partnerships
2022 Making Justice Real Campaign
2022 Servant of Justice Awards Dinner
Making Justice Real Giving Circle
Legal Aid Staff
Board of Trustees