Equal Justice Center (EJC) - Frequently Asked Questions and Answers
Q: What is the Equal Justice Center?
A: The Equal Justice Center (EJC) is an approximately 140,000 square foot office building, designed to house thirteen civil legal aid nonprofits. Co-locating these organizations into one building will allow them to deliver more client-centered services, distribute more resources toward providing those services, and will create cooperative interactions and cost and other efficiencies among the participating organizations.
Q: Why is legal aid important?
A: Civil legal aid is important because it empowers lower-income individuals to achieve just outcomes in and out of court by providing access to high-quality legal advice and professional representation. The rule of law is a fundamental tenet for America to prosper, and when the lowest income individuals lose their access to justice under the law, America loses.
Q: Where will the EJC be located?
A: The EJC will be constructed on what is now a surface parking lot at 800-830 Vine Street. The Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA) currently owns the site and will deed the property over for development. The EJC project is a part of a larger development project for that entire block, including market rate housing, affordable senior housing, a small hotel, a public surface parking lot, and a large swath of open green space.
Q: How was this project developed?
A: The EJC concept was developed by the Philadelphia Bar Foundation, working in conjunction with Pennrose and Regional Housing Legal Services. By providing a permanent purpose-built facility for many of Philadelphia’s civil legal aid non-profits, the Equal Justice Center will serve to sustain, strengthen, and increase the delivery of civil legal services in the City.
Q: How will the EJC accomplish its goals?
A: The Equal Justice Center will house civil legal aid providers delivering centralized pro bono services to low-income clients – ensuring a fairer and more just legal process.
Q: How long are the lease terms?
A: The initial lease term for all tenants will be seven years to match the New Markets Tax Credit structure. Subsequent multi-year lease terms will be available until repayment of the public/private debt is complete. After the initial seven-year lease term, members in the Equal Justice Center will be offered a percentage ownership interest in the building.
Q: At the lease signing stage, do the tenants need to provide a financial security deposit?
A: No, the Philadelphia Bar Foundation is fundraising for those items.
Q: What contingencies are in place if tenants terminate leases early?
A: A 2% vacancy rate is built into the project’s operating budget. In addition, reserves are built into the development budget.
Q: Will the Bar Foundation need to find and enlist other nonprofits if tenants leave?
A: The building owners/operators will intentionally find legal aid nonprofit tenants to avoid non-synergistic uses. If there is attrition, future tenants will need to work with the entities in the EJC in some manner. There is a significant amount of interest from other entities.
Q: Will the tenants in the EJC be required to intake clients at the site?
A: No, many of the potential tenants do not intake clients at all or hold client meetings at their offices. There will be shared space for group or larger meetings which may include use by the tenants and the surrounding community for events. For those tenants who do meet with clients regularly, initial intake services will be available in the reception area of the building.
Q: Have you considered a coffee shop, eatery, or a bank in the lower retail shops?
A: Yes, there have been many considerations. When the participating entities were surveyed, current neighborhood amenities were discussed and are being considered. Residents and community members from the Chinatown neighborhood are weighing in as well.
Q: Are the parking spaces in the property lot public or for tenants?
A: The parking lot is public parking and will be operated by EZ Park, Inc.
Q: What else will be on that block/what resources/features will the building have?
A: Our hope is to foster a sense of unity for the common goal of providing access to legal aid to those who need it. The green space will be open to the public, and the community, and the design will be informed by the community’s input/feedback. The other phases will contain buildings with ground floor commercial space.
Q: The current design of the building is approximately 140,000 sq. ft. – is this the gross number of rentable AND shared space?
A: Yes. This is the total of rentable, shared/amenity, and core space in the building. “Core space” includes items such items as stairwells, central utility spaces, elevators, restrooms, and lobbies. "Amenity/shared space" is semi-private common spaces such as conference rooms, kitchens, roof terrace, flex offices, etc.
Q: How will the EJC work with State and Federal Governments to help low-income Pennsylvanians?
A: The development of the EJC involves interaction with all levels of government. The Project’s financing includes state and federal funds, and the site is being offered for development by a City of Philadelphia quasi-government agency. The construction approval process involves many City agencies, including final passage by City Council. Each member agency will also continue its strong interactions with Federal, state, and local governments to aid those in need.
Q: What’s the schedule for the EJC?
A: We expect to have a financial closing in the summer of 2020. Construction will start immediately, with a 2-year construction period. Member move-ins are expected to begin in 2022.
Q: How can I contribute toward the EJC Project?
A: Please visit our Donate page!