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The Public Interest Law Center was a 2023 recipient of a $31,000 general operating grant from Impact100 Philadelphia for our Environment focus area.

The Public Interest Law Center (the Law Center) uses high-impact legal strategies to advance the civil, social, and economic rights of communities in the Philadelphia region facing discrimination, inequality, and poverty. They use litigation, community education, advocacy, and organizing to secure access to fundamental resources and services.

The Law Center works in six practice areas: employment, environmental justice, healthcare, housing, public education, and voting rights.

Since their founding in 1969 as an affiliate of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, their cases have challenged widespread and entrenched inequities that affect the daily lives of thousands of people.

  • Last year, they won a historic victory for Pennsylvania’s 1.7 million children in public schools when they won their case challenging the commonwealth’s school funding system, which deeply shortchanges low-wealth communities.
  • They are the only organization in Philadelphia standing up to widespread and illegal discrimination against 22,000 renters in the city who use Housing Choice Vouchers
  • In 2020, they helped lead a coalition of organizations working to ensure that the votes of 7 million Pennsylvanians were counted, taking on efforts to decertify the election’s results.

In their environmental justice work, which is a key focus, the Law Center stands with low-income, historically disinvested communities and communities of color in advocating for sustainable and equitable neighborhoods. The Garden Justice Legal Initiative provides free legal support, policy advocacy, and community education to community gardeners and market farmers in the Philadelphia region.

A full-time staff attorney spends about half her time on environmental justice work, supported by a part-time staff attorney who focuses on environmental justice. Both are supported by a full-time community organizer who works with dozens of community gardeners across Philadelphia. Impact100’s grant helped make this level of dedication possible.

The Law Center helps community gardeners secure and preserve legal access to land they have maintained for years. In Philadelphia, tens of thousands of lots lie vacant. Green space established on these lots has well-established benefits: reduced gun violence in surrounding neighborhoods, improved physical and mental health, and cooling dangerously high summer temperatures. Over 65 percent of these gardens are located in low-income communities of color—and as many as 1 in 3 are located in areas with frequent new construction and a high level of development pressure.

Thousands of vacant properties in Philadelphia have burdensome third-party debt following a 1997 sale of property tax debt to U.S. Bank. In June 2023, after years of advocacy by the Law Center and others, the city agreed to buy back the U.S. Bank liens on 90 community garden parcels across the city—protecting them from the immediate threat of sheriff sale. The Law Center continues to work with the city to make permanent title and legal access of these lots possible for the gardeners who have stewarded them for years or decades (in the absence of their nominal owners).

The coalition work of the Law Center extends far beyond any campaign around a specific policy, and the Law Center serves as a central organizing hub for Philadelphia’s green space community to plan for the future and make their voice heard. Last October, they organized a public meeting of dozens of Philadelphia community gardeners with then-candidate Cherelle Parker, now the Mayor of Philadelphia. This meeting with covered by WHYY and mentioned in the New York Times. The Law Center also maintains the GroundedInPhilly website as a free online resource, which received more then 1,000 visitors a month in 2023.

Outside of the Garden Justice Legal Initiative, the Law Center continues their efforts to reduce quality-of-life environmental hazards. Working class Black neighborhoods in Southwest Philadelphia have spent decades living with the unchecked proliferation of nuisance auto body shops and scrapyards. They took this on and in 2023, represented three homeowners in an innovative public and private nuisance lawsuit against an autobody shop behind their homes that had been cited for 58 code violations since 2007. The shop littered their neighborhood and even their backyards with junked cars, trash, oil cans and debris. Since filing suit, the shop ceased its nuisance operations and vacated the property. The Law Center continues to regularly meet with residents of Southwest Philadelphia to discuss solutions to this long-standing environmental justice problem.

Since 1980, Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club, founded in Philadelphia’s Strawberry Mansion neighborhood, has taught thousands of Philadelphia children and adults how to ride and care for horses, and all the responsibility that entails. In 2020, the Club began its search for new land for its horses to graze, after low- income senior housing was built on the vacant lot they had used as a corral. The Law Center represented them in their search for a new space, helping them work with city officials and other stakeholders.

This work epitomizes the value that drives all their environmental justice work: everyone deserves space to grow, play and thrive in their community. Finally, the redevelopment of the Philadelphia Energy Solutions site in Southwest and South Philadelphia—following the 2019 explosion that shut down the East Coast’s largest oil refinery—is one of the most pivotal development projects for the future of Philadelphia. The Law Center is representing a coalition of community organizations working to ensure that the site’s immediate neighbors— primarily people of color—have a voice in the process as the site is developed into warehouses and a logistics and life sciences hub.

The Law Center relies on the support of pro bono attorneys to assist in many of its legal matters across its areas of practice. If you are an attorney interested in providing pro bono services, visit their website to learn more. The Public Interest Law Center also occasionally take on administrative volunteers. If you are interested, fill out their volunteer application and contact LaTrice Brooks, Director of Operations, at [email protected]. More information can be found at