In January, the nonprofit Legal Services Alabama bought a building in downtown Montgomery where it could better provide free legal aid to low-income people referred from the nearby court system. The plan was to fix it up and use it as a headquarters for the statewide operation.
As 2020 ends, that’s still the plan. But now they’re working to raise the money for that move even as the pandemic causes demand for their free legal help to skyrocket.
The organization handles civil work for low-income clients, including cases involving domestic violence, debt harassment, foreclosures, bankruptcies, evictions and wills. By June, its call center had gotten more calls than in all of 2019. More than 1,000 people called for help on a single day in March.
“It’s about double the number of people who are eligible (for service),” LSA Executive Director Guy Lescault said.
The pandemic also caused the organization to rethink some of the ideas for their new headquarters. The new $1.2 million vision would convert the former accounting firm building at 428 S. Perry St. into an open, space-conscious facility that Lescault describes as “a prototype for a post-COVID nonprofit.” The design focuses on flexibility and outdoor meeting space while incorporating energy efficiency concepts.
It would house LSA’s Montgomery regional office, its central administrative office and its Statewide Call Center, becoming the home base for more than 40 employees.
More importantly, Lescault said it would allow them to move out of their current executive park space and into a place that’s near the court system and public transportation. “The primary function should be proximity to clients,” he said.
LSA has already raised $800,000 to buy the building, do the architectural planning and design and pay for basic construction costs. The remaining $1.2 million would cover three phases of consolidating offices at the new headquarters.
They recently got a $75,000 grant from the GoodUse Foundation of Atlanta to support the goal of making the new building energy efficient, as well as a $50,000 donation from the Beasley Allen law firm.
Lescault said he feels their work here is even more important because Alabama is one of two states that has never appropriated funding for legal aid.
“We want to have a strong presence in Montgomery,” he said.