On an early morning in April, third-year
students Arielle Einhorn and Courtney Redman previewed a new legal
literacy training program for employees at Mercy Housing Lakefront, a
nonprofit affordable housing development and management company in
Chicago’s South Loop. The Legal Literacy Program provides Mercy’s more
than 3,900 residents with an overview of housing-related laws.
A training video filmed and presented by law students offers in-depth
descriptions of federal and local housing topics such as the Fair
Housing Act, Resident Landlord Tenant Ordinance, security deposits,
abandonment, habitability, and utilities and leases. For example, the
"Understanding Your Credit" module presents information on the Equal
Credit Opportunity Act and Fair Credit Reporting Act. Once residents
complete the video, they assess their knowledge through an online quiz
and reinforce this information in a group game of Jeopardy.
“The training program is designed to provide residents with a
platform to gain skills and obtain and maintain self-sufficiency to
eventually move to the private market,” said Assistant Professor Julie Lawton, director of the College of Law’s Housing & Community Development Legal Clinic. Under her direction, the clinic partnered with Mercy Housing to develop the Legal Literacy Program.
The project was created by students who participate in the clinic, in
addition to their regular course load. The template took about a year
to develop, Lawton said, and an additional year to refine. Clinic
students Taylor Goulbourn (JD ’14) and Victor Price (JD ’13) drafted the
Legal Literacy Program curriculum with guidance from Professor Lawton
and Mercy Housing. The following year, Einhorn and Redman refined it,
directed the video and presented the final product to educators, staff
and residents of Mercy Housing. Lawton said the concept was conceived in
her consultation with former president of Mercy Housing Lakefront,
Cindy Holler. Holler had shared some of the challenges residents were
having during their transition to facilities operated by Mercy.
Residents arrived with diverse housing backgrounds; some were homeless
and some were moving from other public housing facilities. New residents
sometimes found the lifestyle at Mercy more regimented than what they
had previously experienced.
Lawton said that Mercy Housing sought an environment that was “more
proactive than punitive,” with the idea that helping residents
understand their rights and obligations from the start might make the
transition a little easier. “I applaud Mercy for trying to create a
program that will be helpful to their residents,” she remarked. As part
of the development of the video training, senior management at Mercy
requested that DePaul include Mercy Housing property managers and case
managers in the review and editing process. Overall, employees were
pleased with the program and offered a few minor suggestions, such as
making the language easier to understand and more reader-friendly for
“We want to make sure the information is accessible to the residents,
helpful and, as an educator, I want to make sure the process is a
valuable educational experience for students.”
In a session later that month, Einhorn and Redman presented the
program to Mercy Housing residents. The program will be rolled out to
all residents this summer.