Open Door Legal expands: Now nearly half of all low-income San Franciscans can access free legal help

Open Door Legal has been serving the people of Bayview Hunters Point since 2013.

by Amanda Hundt 

San FranciscoOpen Door Legal (ODL), a San Francisco non-profit committed to building the nation’s first system of universal access to legal help, has opened two new offices in the Excelsior and Fillmore-Western Addition neighborhoods. ODL was able to open the new legal aid centers thanks to a surge in funding by the City of San Francisco and is now halfway to achieving its vision in the city.

“These new centers bring us one step closer to a San Francisco where everyone has access to the law,” says Adrian Tirtanadi, executive director and co-founder at Open Door Legal. “We are so grateful to Mayor Breed, Supervisor Ahsha Safai and the entire Board of Supervisors for making this expansion possible.”

With three centers total – Bayview, Excelsior and the Fillmore – ODL now assists the low-income residents of Districts 5, 10 and 11 with any civil legal issues they may be facing, in whatever area of law those issues may arise. The new funding constitutes a vote of confidence from city officials in the ability of ODL’s model to directly combat poverty and homelessness.

“Everyone in our city should be able to get the legal help they need, regardless of their ability to pay,” said San Francisco Mayor London N. Breed. “Supporting legal assistance is an important part of the City’s efforts to keep people housed. Fighting illegal evictions, ensuring safe living conditions and advocating for workers are all ways of preventing homelessness from occurring in the first place, and with these new Open Door Legal offices, even more people will be able to access these critical services.”

“When I got the notice, I was terrified. I tried to file a response myself but I was ignored. If I lost my place, I would have probably had to leave San Francisco or live on friends’ couches,” said Valenzuela. “In less than a month they got my eviction dropped and my roommates and I got to stay in our home. It was like a weight off my shoulders.”

“Working families in the southern part of the city often feel neglected,” says District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safai. “There are families who are victims of unfair evictions, fighting deportation and trying to survive to raise their families in San Francisco. Open Door Legal fills a critical need in our community as a one-stop shop for all legal issues and I am glad to have played a role in bringing them to a permanent home in the Excelsior.”

ODL’s legal services have already proven successful in the prevention of homelessness in Excelsior. Isidro Valenzuela was issued an illegal eviction notice when the owner of his building went into foreclosure. He had been living in the unit for close to a decade. 

“When I got the notice, I was terrified. I tried to file a response myself but I was ignored. If I lost my place, I would have probably had to leave San Francisco or live on friends’ couches,” said Valenzuela. “In less than a month they got my eviction dropped and my roommates and I got to stay in our home. It was like a weight off my shoulders.”

“It cost Open Door Legal about $975 to prevent Valenzuela and his housemates’ evictions. If they had needed supportive housing for even just one month, it would have cost the City almost $20,000,” says Tirtanadi. “That’s why we believe that universal access to legal help is the most cost-effective way to prevent homelessness and address poverty in San Francisco.”

About Open Door Legal

Open Door Legal (ODL) opened their first center in Bayview Hunters Point in 2013. Since then, ODL has helped over 2,000 clients in over 35 areas of law, including elder abuse, wage theft, child custody, housing and more. At the core of the ODL model is a promise to not turn away any person with a real legal need, who lives in their service area and who cannot afford a private attorney. 


Amanda Hundt can be reached at amanda.n.wiley@gmail.com