January 26, 2021
We were fortunate to have Beck Sigman as a paralegal in our Human Right to Housing Project last year through Jesuit Volunteer Corps. With one semester of law school now completed, Beck reflects on what they learned from tenants during their time at the PJC about the importance of following the community’s lead when advocating for systemic change.
Last year I worked for PJC as a paralegal on the Human Right to Housing Team as part of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps program. Through this position, I learned about the broken housing system in Baltimore City from colleagues, supervisors, and, more importantly, our clients. They taught me about the lack of meaningful protections for low-income tenants, the loopholes that landlords use to avoid accountability, and the systemic racism that is underlying and perpetuating housing discrimination and segregation. Much of my job involved working directly with clients, meaning that I spent most of my days listening to the stories of Baltimoreans who were facing these challenges and working with our attorneys to develop strategies to address them.
One lesson that I learned while at PJC is the importance of following the community’s lead. Recognizing that the “community” is a diverse group of people with differing experiences and opinions, PJC nonetheless tries to base its work around the issues most pressing to our clients. Staff members are encouraged to solicit and incorporate feedback from clients and to decide our priorities based on clients’ needs. As a paralegal who interacted with clients each day, I was able to participate in this process. For example, when the Housing Team kept getting complaints from tenants about how landlords’ failure to address mold was creating unsafe living conditions, we met as a team to decide how to reprioritize our work to address this issue. This spurred our advocacy in the Baltimore City Council for creating clear regulations around mold inspections and health and safety standards. As part of this effort, we not only highlighted the stories of our clients but also prepared tenants who were directly facing this challenge to give testimony before the Council. Although the fight against unsafe housing conditions in Baltimore City continues, it was influential for me to see firsthand the power of following the community’s lead and the impact that local advocacy can have.
My time at PJC inspired me to pursue my own career in law, and I am now in my first year of law school at American University. I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to live up to the standards set by PJC as I live out the mission of using the legal system to create systemic change and change peoples’ lives for the better. Through this journey, I’ll be taking with me the lessons I learned from colleagues and clients alike. I’m grateful for my time at PJC, and I’m excited to continue to see what change the organization effects in Baltimore in the future.