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Legal aid can offer help with housing
Grant and donations allow Rappahannock Legal Services to handle housing cases.


Date published: 7/24/2012

BY LINDLEY ESTES

Thanks to donations, Rappahannock Legal Services will be able to continue offering housing and consumer assistance to area residents for at least another 18 months.

The organization, which provides civil legal help to low-income individuals, has the resources now to keep its housing attorney, Daniel Turczan, on the staff.

The Fredericksburg-based agency began raising money in January to match a grant from Doris Buffett's Sunshine Lady Foundation. The philanthropic foundation granted legal services $30,000 initially to hire Turczan for six months, with a promise to double the amount if it could match the grant.

So far, Rappahannock Legal Services is $7,000 over its target of $30,000.

To raise this money the group called previous donors, knocked on doors, held a wine-tasting and raffle and asked its board members to help.

Ann Kloeckner, director of Rappahannock Legal Services, said that during the first six months Turczan was with the organization he helped 80 people who otherwise would have had to be turned away.

Kloeckner said that in the next year she expects he will be able to help more than double the number of people assisted.

According to agency figures, its 17-locality service area has 52,573 residents who qualify for legal assistance. That's 15,618 in the five counties served by the Culpeper office; 11,126 in the seven counties served by Tappahannock; and 25,829 in the five counties served by the Fredericksburg office.

Kloeckner said that most of their clients are unaware of their legal rights.

One of the first cases Turczan took on involved a man whose landlord had overcharged him $3,700 in fees over a year.

"The amount we saved him represents four months of his wages," Kloeckner said. "It's a significant amount of his budget, especially since he is raising a daughter on his own."

She also said that Turczan's work also is important in domestic violence cases.

"For all of the time we had to shut off that part of our services, those dealing with domestic violence were not able to get help with housing."

The cases often involve victims being sued for back rent for the residence they were abused in.

"These cases would be very different if we did not have [Turczan]," she said. "The victim would have been revictimized."

As successful as the campaign was, "it doesn't take away from the fact that our program has struggled throughout the year," Kloeckner said.

She said the next challenge for Rappahannock Legal Services is how to increase and sustain support.

The $60,000 in donations will pay the salary and benefits for one lawyer for a year. The group has five other attorneys in three offices, as well as support staff who have not received raises since 2007. Their salaries recently were cut by 9.25 percent to balance the budget.

"We still need support to maintain the program," said Dawn Chase, communications director for Virginia's Legal Aid programs.

Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976
Email: lestes@freelancestar.com