From “Hearing” to Listening: Access to Justice and Indirect Displacement
Written By: Emily McWey
When local government policies cause households and communities to become homeless, those affected are entitled to due process. Yet when the government displaces households through zoning-induced gentrification, it often acts as the perpetrator of the harm, adjudicator of disputes, and favored party on appeal. Regardless of the merits of such disputes, that process raises prohibitive access-to-justice barriers.
The threat of homelessness is undeniably a substantial private interest for due process purposes. When this threat arises from government-driven policies, due process becomes particularly critical. For that reason, while the existing access-to-justice discourse about direct displacement is important, this Note reveals that access-to-justice barriers in the context of indirect displacement through zoning-induced gentrification are perhaps even more fundamental.
To illustrate the necessity of such research, this Note examines a recent case in which Ms. Sharon Cole, a pro se litigant, navigated the entire available process—from the zoning hearing to the final appeal—to defend herself and her community against indirect displacement caused by zoning-induced gentrification. The facts and substantive law over-whelmingly supported her community’s position, but Ms. Cole was denied a meaningful opportunity to be heard. By the end of the process, the government had initiated and subsidized the harm, and the legal system legitimated, facilitated, and—worst of all—erased it.
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