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Public Interest Law Project

Carey Whitehead

June 01, 2007

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Community Development Law Center, Portland, OR

With the generous support of Lewis and Clark’s Public Interest Law Project, I spent my summer as a 2007 Public Interest Law Clerk at the Community Development Law Center (CDLC). This model organization is one of only a handful of its kind nation-wide. Expertise in pro-active planning policies allows CDLC to provide quality legal support to its clients while consistently incorporating industry-wide best-practices and strategies that further shared goals in the affordable housing industry. Likewise, the organization develops cutting-edge planning policies that reflect the practical legal realities underlying complex transactions and the limited resources of the non-profit community.

As a leader on affordable housing issues, CDLC offered me an unmatched opportunity to work under the expertise and direction of its legal and planning staff. Because CDLC’s clients are nonprofit affordable housing organizations, I was assigned projects that provided me with legal experience geared towards learning allowable limits of the operation and development of a healthy non-profit organization—an invaluable opportunity for a student who is committed to serving the public interest. In that vein, my tasks included drafting and amending articles of incorporation, bylaws, or fiscal sponsorship arrangements; researching nonprofit limits on lobbying and prohibition on political involvement; and structuring affordable housing projects to fall within IRS guidelines for charitable activities. Perhaps as important was the opportunity this summer clerkship provided to learn about the CDLC model for sustaining an organization that provides these legal services at a substantially reduced rate. Knowledge of this business structure will help me better serve non-profits later in my career.

My major project at CDLC related to statewide affordable housing preservation. As the value of land increases, owners of manufactured home parks have greater incentives to sell the land for other uses. This leaves the community with fewer affordable housing units and displaces residents who often have little or no capital to make a housing transition. This summer, I helped complete a white paper that focused on opportunities for manufactured home park residents to collectively purchase their parks from the current park owners through various mechanisms. Resident-owned parks not only maintain the current stock of affordable housing, but benefit everyone by adding to community stability. In addition to substantially contributing to a white paper survey of options for preservation of these parks, I helped complete a series of model documents for use in Oregon in future resident purchase projects using a nonprofit mutual benefit cooperative model for collective ownership.

While this project focused on Oregon-based solutions, the knowledge and skills I gained have broad applicability. Almost every state in the nation is faced with similar circumstances. This special project not only helped to further the goals of CDLC and its Oregon-based clients, but will contribute substantially to my ability to draw from the same toolbox when I return to my Virginia home.

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