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Experts Forum: What’s the best way to stem evictions?

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Are evictions the fault of deadbeat tenants, or predatory landlords? The answer, of course, is in the middle – as is the stew of ideas to keep a lid on unnecessary evictions.

Eviction prevention was the topic of a panel discussion at the state capitol last month in which an all-star group of stakeholders talked – and, sometimes, bickered – about how the issue of evictions can be at least mitigated.

Minnesota Lawyer recently convened a panel discussion. That discussion, edited for length and clarity, can be read by clicking the image at right.

Meet the experts: 

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Joseph Abraham, Principal, Pergola Management

Joseph Abraham is principal at Pergola Management, a Twin Cities company that has owned and managed apartment properties in the metro since 1995, has 750 market-rate apartments in the Twin Cities area. More than half of Pergola’s apartments are considered naturally occurring affordable housing. The company has preserved these apartment homes.

Abraham is also second vice chair for the Minnesota Multi Housing Association and serves as a member of executive committee and chairs MMHA’s legislative committee. MMHA was founded in 1967 to promote the highest standards in the development, management and maintenance of rental and owner-occupied multi housing. While members include the state’s largest apartment management companies, developers, common interest communities, and providers of related products and services, the majority of its members own or manage fewer than 20 units each.

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Colleen Ebinger, Family Housing Fund

Colleen Gross Ebinger is vice president of the Family Housing Fund and has led the Ramsey County Housing Court pilot from inception to implementation over the past three years. This work brings together the judicial branch, lawyers, mediators, financial assistance, and the multi-housing industry to address the root causes of eviction.

Fluent in Spanish, Ebinger previously directed a statewide policy and advocacy initiative for Centro Legal and served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras. She also consulted for 12 years to governments, nonprofits and foundations, and is currently co-chair of the Minneapolis Advisory Committee on Housing. Ebinger is an alumna of the College of St. Benedict and holds a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard University, attending on a Reynolds Fellowship.

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Keith Ellison, Minnesota Attorney General

Keith Ellison was sworn in as Minnesota’s 30th attorney general on January 7, 2019.

Ellison graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1990. Before winning elected office, he worked full-time as a litigator specializing in civil rights, employment, and criminal law; as the executive director of the nonprofit Legal Rights Center; and as an attorney in trial practice.

From 2003 to 2007, he served in the Minnesota House of Representatives, and from 2007 to 2019, in the U.S. House of Representatives. In November 2018, he was elected attorney general, the first African American and the first Muslim to be elected to statewide office in Minnesota.

As Attorney General, Ellison is focused on protecting consumers, supporting women’s economic security, and helping communities in Greater Minnesota be safe and thrive. He is also involved in national efforts to protect immigrants’ rights and women’s reproductive rights, fight arbitrary deregulation that endangers people’s health and safety, defend middle-class prosperity and affordable access to health care, and defend the foundations of our Constitution and democracy.

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Judge John Guthmann, Second Judicial District

John Guthmann is the chief judge in Minnesota’s Second Judicial District, which encompasses Ramsey County.

He graduated from Cornell College with a double major in history and political science in 1976. He received his J.D. from William Mitchell College of Law in 1980, where he served as editor-in-chief of the William Mitchell Law Review.

After clerking for Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Sheran, Guthmann practiced for 27 years with the Hansen Dordell, firm. He was appointed to the Ramsey County bench in 2008. In addition to teaching at both the University of Minnesota Law School and the William Mitchell College of Law, Guthmann wrote and lectured frequently while in private practice.

After his appointment to the bench, Guthmann served three years in the Criminal Division and five years in the Civil Division. He presently serves as presiding judge for Minnesota’s asbestos litigation and handles all criminal, juvenile, and Housing Court expungements.

Guthmann continues to write and lecture and he is a member of the Civil Jury Instruction Guide Committee and the Board of Directors of the Minnesota District Judges Foundation.

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Brittany Lewis, Center for Urban and Regional Affairs

Brittany Lewis is a local scholar activist, author, professor and youth action research team leader that utilizes her engaged action research framework to center the voices of black women and girls in her scholarship and public advocacy on urban housing and community economic development.

Lewis is a senior research associate at the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs where she is the principal investigator of The Illusion of Choice: Evictions and Profit in North Minneapolis project and the co-principal investigator on the recently published report: “The Diversity of Gentrification: Multiple Forms of Gentrification in Minneapolis and St. Paul.”  Lewis is a former Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank Fellow and is currently expanding her research into areas of criminal justice.

Lewis is a Ph.D. trained community-engaged urban ethnographer with an expertise in urban housing, community economic development, and critical race and gender studies with a focus on issues of poverty.

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Drew Schaffer, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid

Drew Schaffer graduated in 2004 from the University of Minnesota Law School, where he got his first exposure to poverty law and vindicating families’ basic civil rights in the Housing Clinic. He joined Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid in September 2005 as a staff attorney, advising and representing low-income tenants in all varieties of housing cases while specializing in eviction defense litigation.

For a decade, he co-taught the University of Minnesota Law School’s Housing Clinic, lecturing on landlord-tenant law in Minnesota and supervising law students in representations of tenants in eviction and housing health and safety matters.

In 2013, Schaffer became the managing attorney of the Housing Unit in Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid’s Minneapolis office. In 2017, Schaffer became the executive director of Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, where he now oversees Legal Aid’s work to protect vulnerable people’s family safety and stability, financial security, health and nutrition, housing safety and stability, and other basic civil rights in Hennepin County, central and western Minnesota, and statewide for people with disabilities.

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