Funded Partner Spotlight: Bay Area Legal Services

Aug 31, 2023News
Members of Bay Area Legal Services at a listening event

Bay Area Legal Services (BALS) Managing Attorney Pye Young oversees a variety of areas – from the group’s work with veterans, to its housing stability and eviction assistance work, to kinship care, to general civil legal assistance.

The message she has for community members with legal questions is simple and clear.

“When in doubt, call,” she says. “When something happens, reach out. Call us. Don’t second guess.”

With an office on Central Avenue and space in the Campbell Park Resource Center, Bay Area Legal Services is a nonprofit law firm providing pre-litigation civil law services to low-income community members, free of charge. The group focuses part of its efforts on housing stability, helping local residents stay in their homes. Unfortunately, with evictions, some people wait to seek help until an eviction is filed. It’s much better, Young explained, to reach out to BALS as soon as you fall behind on rent – or receive a three-day eviction notice.

“Once an eviction is filed, it can stay on your permanent record and limit prospects for future housing,” she explained. “We strongly encourage you to contact us as soon as you fall behind or get notified so that we can try to help.”

In addition to housing stability work, the group also serves the local veteran community, making sure veterans receive proper benefits and compensation based on disabilities, injuries, and discharge status. They also have a kinship care partnership through which they provide legal assistance to people caring for children of close friends or family members when the parents can’t. Helping obtain temporary custody allows caregivers to receive a small stipend for the child and ensures children can access the support resources they need in school to thrive.

“If you don’t have temporary custody, you can’t ask for assistance or advocate for the child to receive special services,” Young explained. “We help level the playing field and make people able to advocate on their own behalf.”

BALS is a pre-litigation law firm, striving to keep cases out of court. While they do not handle any fee-generated work – like auto accidents, medical malpractice, or criminal representation – they can help with general legal needs, like filing to seal or expunge your record, resolving small claims or consumer issues, resolving issues of discrimination in fair housing, and more. BALS also strives to empower clients to advocate on their own behalf for the services and help they need — and deserve.

In 2022, the Foundation awarded BALS a grant to conduct a listening campaign in South St. Petersburg to better understand the post-pandemic needs of residents. In July, the group hosted a listening session at the Foundation’s Center for Health Equity. That event helped highlight a housing-related community issue Young says she’s committed to addressing in 2024: heir preservation.

When a family member passes away, the next of kin often occupies the house (or continues to occupy the house) without filing the necessary paperwork to transfer the house’s title to their name. In time, that heir occupant can be hit with a series of fines and liens for this paperwork oversight dating back to the time of the owner’s death. If the new occupant and heir can’t afford to pay those penalties, they can end up losing the property. Young wants to help people avoid this trouble by assisting with proper title transfer, estate planning, and more before penalties are assessed.

“If people don’t update the tax appraiser’s office as needed, even if they continue to pay property taxes, they can end up facing fees and losing all tax exemptions on the property,” she explained. “It has become my goal for 2024 to find funding, find support, find attorneys and education to address this need. We have to get the word out to the public because a lot of people just don’t know what they need to do when a family member dies.”

BALS’ listening work also helped surface a need for a community navigator to assist their legal efforts. In the months ahead, Young is hoping to add a navigator to her team to help conduct outreach, screen for eligibility, and serve clients by connecting them with wrap-around services.

The group is hosting a second listening session at the Enoch Davis Community Center in September focusing specifically on the local Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) veteran community.

For more information on Bay Area Legal Services’ work, please visit their website or call 800-625-2257.

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