Community & Neighborhood Development,
Crime & Law,
Mission: Community Law Center, a nonprofit law firm, provides legal services to community and nonprofit organizations throughout Maryland to promote stronger nonprofits and more vibrant neighborhoods.
Results: Throughout the 25 years of our history, Community Law Center has worked steadily with neighborhoods, the City, and the State to develop methods, laws and regulations that support the efforts of communities to improve their circumstances. Issues addressed over the years include:
Fighting the installation of illegal billboards, advertising undesirable products, in low-income communities
Creating innovative strategies to have court appointed receivers oversee the renovations of vacant properties
Developing a self-help nuisance abatement strategy to allow communities to board up vacant properties, rather than waiting for the City or the owner to do it
Formulating the strategy of filing drug nuisance abatement cases to combat the use of neighborhood homes as drug distribution points and “shooting galleries”
Initiating and amending “Community Bill of Rights” legislation, allowing community associations to seek enforcement of housing, building, zoning and health codes in their neighborhoods
Partnering with CDCs to reduce crime in neighborhoods through drug nuisance abatement and other strategies, helping property values to rise
Fighting open-air drug markets by forcing the removal of illegal payphones, and bringing suit against owners of vicious dogs used by drug dealers to intimidate community leaders
Investigating the practices of licensing bodies, to ensure the fair and complete compliance with applicable statutes
Facilitating legislation allowing vacant lots to be turned into side yards and community gardens and permitting alley-gating projects, and offering legal representation to the communities using these laws
Coordinating the task force addressing property-flipping and other predatory real estate practices in Baltimore City, and developing partnerships for the enforcement of applicable regulations
Target demographics: Community Law Center serves nonprofit organizations and neighborhood and community groups. CLC represents only organizational clients in Maryland.
Geographic areas served: State of Maryland
Programs: Community Law Center (CLC)’s legal services are provided by staff attorneys through our Community Legal Services Program or volunteer attorneys through our Pro Bono Program. CLC staff and volunteer attorneys generally serve clients in three ways: 1) Brief advice, referral, and education; 2) Long-term legal assistance; and 3) Direct legal representation.
The preparatory capacity-building work done at case intake is one of the most important services offered by CLC. Clients are required to examine their own organization’s capacity and procedures, and to carefully consider which legal matter they wish to resolve, and whether they are prepared to pursue the matter as an organization. Organizations come away with a better understanding of the requirements to operate properly as a nonprofit, and with clearer notions of what they must do to retain their Good Standing with the State of Maryland, tax-exempt status with the I.R.S., and as proper plaintiffs in court actions.
The Pro Bono Program’s volunteer attorneys handle complex matters, from intellectual property to employment law to real estate, as our clients strive to improve the stability, health, safety, and attractiveness of their neighborhoods. CLC helps groups that would otherwise be unable to afford the legal assistance needed to get started, protect their legal rights, or achieve their missions.
The Community Legal Services Program provides direct legal representation by staff attorneys to community organizations, community development corporations (CDCs), and nonprofits in Baltimore City to bring neighborhood revitalization goals to fruition. Every day, CLC staff attorneys use the power of the law to make Baltimore’s neighborhoods cleaner, safer, and more attractive places through four focus areas:
1. Neighborhood Revitalization: represents Baltimore City communities to protest liquor license renewals and transfers for bars and package goods stores that refuse to be good neighbors; stop drug dealers using houses to distribute narcotics; and offer legal assistance for neighborhood associations to realize their revitalization goals.
2. Environmental Justice: provides legal services to community and nonprofit organizations working to green their environment, remove threats to public health and safety, and participate in the land use and permitting decision-making processes using environmental, zoning, and transportation laws to advocate for cleaner, greener, and healthier neighborhoods.
3. Equitable Development: provides legal services to organizations working to build community assets and improve access to affordable housing, reliable transportation, healthy food, living wage employment, and needed social services. Working with communities to draft Community Benefits Agreements with developers in their neighborhoods; providing workshops and educational opportunities; seeking policy change to improve opportunities for equitable development; and bringing stakeholders together to address community concerns.
4. Real Estate Services: provides representation to community-based organizations and nonprofit housing developers seeking to return vacant properties in Baltimore City to productive use through acquisition and rehabilitation, including tax sale foreclosure; direct purchase from owner; private donation; property consolidation and state property tax exemption applications; lien release requests; construction and financing documents; and legal representation on commercial and corporate governance matters.
Community Law Center provides workshops and trainings throughout the year on topics that cover our major case types (liquor licenses, zoning, nonprofit formation and maintenance, community benefits agreements) and the needs of our clients (nonprofit budgeting and financial statements, leases and contracts). CLC brings together citizens, government officials, bureaucrats, foundations, regulators, nonprofits, universities and community organizations to engage them in making our neighborhoods great places to live, work and play.