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Access to Justice

While poor defendants in criminal cases have a constitutional right to an attorney, no such right extends to parties in civil cases. The alternatives for those who can’t afford the cost of hiring a lawyer are stark: face the legal system alone or abandon their legal claims. Either choice can lead to dire circumstances. A place to live, unemployment or disability benefits, parental rights, necessary medical treatments, protection from domestic violence, safeguards against predatory lending--these can all vanish without the guidance of an attorney.

The Poverty Center is actively involved in statewide efforts to expand access to counsel in civil cases and to assist pro se (self-represented) litigants.


In conjunction with the North Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission, the Poverty Center released a report on the economic benefits to the state that result from furnishing civil legal services to low-income citizens. These services are provided through three organizations: Legal Aid of North Carolina, Legal Services of the Southern Piedmont, and Pisgah Legal Services.

Some key findings of the report:

  • Nearly $23 million of federal benefits were obtained through legal services in 2012
  • Over $8.5 million of housing-related awards were won by clients of legal services in 2012
  • Nearly $17 million in cost-savings - through eviction prevention, foreclosure prevention, and domestic violence advocacy - were earned by legal services in 2012
  • The total economic impact of legal aid services in 2012 was $48,775,276, or a 108% return on the money invested into these services.

Read the entire report (PDF) or the executive summary (PDF).

Articles and editorials by Gene Nichol:

Student research:

Recommendations for Northside

In the fall of 2011, the Center wrote a report for the Northside community in Chapel Hill. Northside, a historically African American neighborhood near downtown and the UNC campus, is experiencing a rapid and disruptive change, largely brought on by demand for student rentals.

The report, Solutions for Northside: Going Beyond Chapel Hill's 2011 Northside and Pine Knoll's Community Plan (PDF), describes a range of potential responses available to Northside residents.

Reports on Racial Disparities in Wealth in North Carolina

Racial Wealth Disparity in North Carolina (PDF) highlights the assets divide between whites and African Americans, and men and women, in the state. Used less often than income as a measure of economic self-sufficiency, wealth provides a larger buffer during times of financial strain, a path to opportunity, a cushion for retirement and a boost for the next generation.

Tracing the Causes of Racial Wealth Disparity (PDF) is the Center's second report in this series. Issued in spring of 2011, it looks at the reasons underlying the gap in wealth accumulation between blacks and whites.

Report Examines Adult Care Homes in Public Housing for State's Elderly

Adult Care Homes in Public Housing: A Feasibility Study (PDF) was developed after the NC General Assembly charged the Poverty Center with looking into locating an adult care home in federally subsidized public housing. Though there is need for adult care homes, a type of assisted living facility for adults who need help with some activities but do not require regular medical care, the report found that the model would encounter significant challenges in implementation, and suggested working with already established networks of care to bolster provision of services to the elderly.

Report Explores Cost of the 287(g) Program in North Carolina

The 287(g) Program: The Costs and Consequences of Local Immigration Enforcement in North Carolina Communities, written by UNC researchers Mai Nguyen and Hannah Gill, which was funded in part by the Poverty Center, concludes that the 287(g) program, set up to target violent criminals, is instead primarily used to deport immigrants picked up for minor offenses. The authors suggest that other crime-fighting policies might be more effective and debunk the myth that increased immigration leads to a higher crime rate.

Center Releases "Documenting Poverty, Economic Distress and Challenge in NC," a Report for the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation

In fall 2009, the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation enlisted the aid of the Poverty Center in helping the Foundation revisit its community economic development goals and strategies. The first phase of the project - understanding the current picture of poverty in North Carolina - culminated in this report "Documenting Poverty, Economic Distress and Challenge in North Carolina (PDF)," written by Gene Nichol and Heather Hunt of the Poverty Center with guidance from an advisory committee setting the outline and direction for the research project. The report was presented to the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation board in January 2010.

Poverty Center Seed Funding Grants

The Seed Funding Grants were intended to encourage interdisciplinary poverty-related research at the university. These grants offered short-term funding for researchers to develop innovative and applied research projects with community partners that lead to larger, sustained efforts.

More information on the Seed Funding Grants

The New Orleans Recovery Initiative

The New Orleans Recovery Initiative (NORI) connected the university's expertise with efforts to rebuild the city after Katrina. Begun in spring 2007, NORI spanned over a year, involved numerous UNC faculty, staff and students, developed community and institutional partners in New Orleans, worked with neighborhood associations to assist in their regrowth, produced reports and maps, and has become an integral and ongoing part of the Center on Urban and Regional Studies at UNC.

More on the New Orleans Recovery Initiative

Law Journal Publishes Proceedings from 2007 Poverty Center Conference

The Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law and Policy published the transcript from the Center's 2007 conference, Wealth Inequality and the Eroding Middle Class. Topics include the impact of globalization and immigration on wealth inequality in the U.S.; the way policies drive inequality; and what can be done to reduce inequality domestically. For ordering information, visit the Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law and Policy website.

Policy Brief Series - Original Research by UNC Faculty

In spring 2006, the Center hosted a competitive process to support original research by UNC faculty members in the form of policy briefs. Each brief was authored by a UNC faculty member and was reviewed by two experts - an academic and a practitioner in the field. Read the Policy Briefs.

The Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity's Book Ending Poverty in America: How to Restore the American Dream, Published

Through analysis and policy suggestions, the Center's book tackles various facets of the poverty problem in the United States. It was published in the spring 2007 by The New Press, and was edited by Senator John Edwards, Marion Crain and Arne L. Kalleberg. View the Table of Contents, including all authors and chapter titles (PDF) or buy the book.

The Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity Summit Published in Employee Rights and Employment Policy Journal

A transcript of the proceedings from the Center's Summit on Nov. 9, 2005 was published in Volume 10, Issues 1 of the Employee Rights and Employment Policy Journal. Read the agenda (PDF) for the Summit or order a copy of the Journal.

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