Tenant Assistance Project adds resources to prevent long-term evictions

LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) – It’s a typical Thursday morning. Volunteer lawyers stand outside the elevator on the second floor of the Lancaster County Courthouse, waiting for tenants facing eviction, so they don’t have to face a judge alone.

The Tenant Assistance Project started with volunteer lawyers representing clients for free when they had time after the eviction moratorium ended, but now there are lawyers available every day.

“Our biggest impact has been to reduce evictions overall,” said Ryan Sullivan, who helped start the program. “We’ve reduced evictions by about 50% to 60% over the past two years.”

Now they are focusing on more than just preventing an eviction.

“Eviction is a symptom of bigger issues, health issues, financial issues, and in most cases they need additional services beyond the legal,” Sullivan said.

That’s why they brought in Kaitlyn Evans, a student about to graduate in social work, to serve as a resource navigator.

“We are a short-term service for individuals and families,” Evans said. “Our goal is to connect them to longer-term services.”

When a tenant shows up for their hearing, they complete a needs assessment to identify the resources they need to be connected to in order to prevent another eviction from happening.

“Food, mental health, domestic violence are things that happen every day, jobs are another,” Evans said.

The project has identified this as a need because the evictions are not slowing down. Sullivan said last month that 326 eviction hearings were scheduled in the county. He said there were up to 40 scheduled in a single morning. In the past few months since Evans joined, she has helped up to 100 people connect with resources.

“It’s difficult because we need more macro-level services, more housing and more money,” Evans said. “But it’s also great to see these people connecting to services they didn’t know existed or to see them getting something they didn’t think they could get, like food for the week.”

But his position is not permanent. Sullivan said they hope to secure funding to continue offering a resource browser long term.

If you’re facing an eviction in Lancaster County, the city’s website has Tenant Assistance Project contact information and steps to take. Click here.

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