Miami Law Student Advocates for Tenants During COVID-19 Pandemic

BY:  
CREATED:  

Sam Sachs

Sam Sachs, 3L

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a significant housing crisis at both a national and local level. Third-year Miami Law student Sam Sachs has spent the last year and a half on the front lines advocating for tenants at Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc.

Sachs started at LSGMI in the Tenant's Rights Unit as a HOPE Summer Public Interest Fellow at the beginning of the COVID pandemic in May of 2020. Housing issues in the face of a pandemic were not at the forefront of his mind when he committed to Miami Law and the Summer Fellows Program, but thanks to the HOPE office's placement at LSGMI, Sachs was able to find an area of law he was genuinely passionate about and work diligently to make a difference in the lives of others.

Helping others is not new for Sachs. Before attending law school, Sachs worked closely with teens from various backgrounds as the director of the YMCA of Delaware Youth in Government program.

"I focused on fostering civic engagement with teens from across Delaware to empower them to make an impact in their community," said Sachs. "I wanted to help our students overcome the barriers to success, and I learned how important stable housing was to their health and development. Every person deserves to feel physically, emotionally, and mentally safe, so part of my decision to come to law school was to cultivate my advocacy skills to better support my community." Sachs credits the YMCA for helping him find himself, and he tries to embody the YMCA's core values of Honesty, Respect, Responsibility, and Caring, through everything he does.

Sachs’ genuine interest in the well-being of his students embodies what he describes as servant leadership. He believes "people view leaders as those who are in charge, have power, and get attention, but a real leader is someone who empowers others to be confident and make a positive impact in their community." His leadership style has translated into his academic and professional path seamlessly. In law school, Sachs is a HOPE PIN Pal Mentee, Charles Papy Moot Court Board member, HOPE Fellow, and has been awarded scholarships for his commitment to his community and those in need.

Over the past year and a half, Sachs has worked with over 200 clients facing various housing issues. He primarily works with tenants facing eviction, which requires him to explain the eviction process, assist with drafting pleadings, and connect families with resources to help with rehousing. He also has had the opportunity to work with tenants who live in a variety of subsidized housing, including Section 8 voucher recipients, public housing residents, and low-income housing tax credit tenants.

Some of Sachs’ most memorable experiences have come from representing subsidized housing residents in administrative hearings. For example, Sachs successfully represented a public housing resident in two hearings and obtained the family a new housing unit and compensation for their property damage and return of their rental payments. He also overturned the termination of a Section 8 voucher and recovered all of the additional rent the tenant had been required to pay while the voucher was terminated.

"When I first started in the Tenants Rights Division, we were starting to see some state and local protections for tenants to prevent evictions. Those first few months in 2020 were rough because we often wouldn't know until the night before a moratorium would end if there would be an extension,” Sachs said. He explained that the CDC moratorium “provided many people with peace of mind, but that tenants still owed the rent, and landlords weren't getting paid.” He went on to explain, “This led to many relationships breaking down between tenants and landlords. When rental assistance funds finally became available, many landlords refused to accept it and just wanted the tenant out.”

Sachs went on to share that after the Supreme Court of the United States struck down the CDC moratorium, the number of people needing assistance increased, but he is limited in what he can do for the clients. "Most of what I can do for some of these tenants is inform them of their rights and a timeline," Sachs continues, "But the opportunity to be of service and keep an eye out for my community is at the heart of why I'm here."

As a HOPE Fellow, Sachs will bring his experience to the University of Miami community through a program focusing on the eviction crisis in Miami. On October 20th, Sachs will be joined by classmates Lesly Pourcely and Bianca Ferreira to welcome Jeffrey Hearne, director of litigation at LSGMI and director of Miami Law’s Tenants’ Rights Clinic, and Zaina Alous, Organizing and Advocacy Manager at the Miami Workers Center, for Evicted: A View from Miami. This conversation will provide an opportunity for the UM community to learn more about the housing crisis in Miami and the impact on our community as the evictions moratoria have come to an end. This program is being presented in partnership with One Book, One U, an annual program designed to engage the University of Miami community in a book club, interdisciplinary conversations and action. This year’s selection is Evicted by Matthew Desmond.

Read more about Social Justice and Public Interest at Miami Law

Read more about Miami Law’s Tenants’ Rights Clinic