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Grant arrives for clinic in time for tax rush

April 5, 2001

One campus organization got money from the Internal Revenue Service a little early this year.

The MSU-Detroit College of Law Tax and Rental Housing clinics recently received a $100,000 grant from the IRS.

“It is funding that is provided for us in order for us to provide the services that we do,” said DCL Professor Michele Halloran, director of the Tax Clinic.

Halloran co-wrote and submitted the grant request. The grant can be renewed through 2003. The award is one of 70 given out to similar organizations as part of the IRS-sponsored Low-Income Taxpayer program.

The Rental Housing and Tax clinics allow DCL students to provide legal information and representation to people who speak English as a second language as well as low-income individuals in the East Lansing and Lansing area.

And with less than a month remaining until the April 16 IRS filing deadline, clinician and third-year DCL student Erin Reedy said the office is becoming much busier.

“It’s really stressful,” she said. “It’s crunch time.”

The grant will help DCL maintain the facility, but Halloran said it’s no surplus.

“We are largely dependent on contributions from foundations, private individuals, public corporations, private corporations - anybody,” she said.

All the same, the clinic isn’t hurting for clientele. This year, 300 people have sought assistance through the free service located in the small office located at 541 E. Grand River Ave., in the Campus Town Mall. Last year the tax clinic filed a little more than 70 returns.

Rental Housing clinician Brenda Putt, a third-year DCL student, said the clinic also provides law students with valuable experience.

“It’s a good opportunity for us to actually apply that before we get out and before we get into our employment experience,” she said. “We’re responsible from the beginning of the case - from the moment the client walks in the door,” she said.

The rental housing clinic helps mediate issues between landlords and tenants. Problems range from security deposit disputes to the language of a lease.

Clinicians first attempt to provide clients with information to help them solve the problem on their own. If that does not work, clinic employees attempt to negotiate a solution to the problem out of court, and if a problem still exists, a clinician may be selected to take the case to trial.

While the rental housing clinic offers numerous services to the community, DCL director of clinical programs MaryAnn Pierce said it isn’t a cure-all.

“We obviously haven’t fixed all of the rental housing problems in East Lansing,” said Pierce, who co-wrote and submitted the grant request. “Our clinical education provides legal services to people who have had landlord-tenant legal issues.”

But Pierce said the work has its difficult aspects. One of her biggest goals, she said, is to improve relations between students and the community.

“The challenging thing for me is to get one side of Grand River talking with the other side of Grand River,” she said. “The wall is hopefully tumbling.”

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