AUSTIN, TEXAS – In its first annual report to President Obama on legal aid to low-income Americans, a White House agency highlighted the work of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA). The report released Wednesday by the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable (WH-LAIR), formed as a White House initiative to improve access to justice for low-income Americans, includes 22 agencies, among them, the U.S. Departments of Education, Labor, Justice, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security.
Its first report drew attention to two TRLA cases:
– A settlement providing relocation funds for residents of Corpus Christi’s Hillcrest neighborhood, where construction linked to the new Harbor Bridge will increase environmental hazards and further segregate the neighborhood. TRLA attorney Erin Gaines and Kelly Haragan, of the UT-Environmental Law Clinic, filed a Title VI civil rights complaint on behalf of two long-time Hillcrest residents and the local community group Citizens Alliance for Fairness and Progress. According to the WH-LAIR report, construction without the settlement would have disrupted the lives of “hundreds of households and businesses in a historic African-American community and destroyed or isolated homes from the community’s schools, churches, hospitals, and local businesses.” Gaines said: “The agreement is a historic win for both civil rights and environmental justice. The implementation of the agreement is still in the works, and we hope the agencies involved remain committed throughout the multiple year process.”
– TRLA’s suit on behalf of Brownsville homeowners against Freedom Companies Inc., which promised to reduce mortgage payments for customers, then stole their payments. The firm faced similar allegations elsewhere in the country. The WH-LAIR report said: “LSC-funded Texas RioGrande Legal Aid identified a problem with Freedom Companies – a company supposedly offering mortgage relief services to Spanish speakers – and helped get a consumer declaration.the business and seized all remaining assets.”
In the press release on the report, Executive Director David Hall, said: “TRLA served 23,000 low-income Texans in 2015, but that’s still not enough. For every TRLA attorney, there are 15,000 people in South and West Texas who are eligible for civil legal aid and should have access to it.”