It’s a familiar scene in New York City Housing Court: An attorney for a landlord argues his case while a tenant facing eviction stands silent, clutching a few documents.
A majority of City Council members want to change that scenario.
The council on Monday conducted a hearing on a proposed bill that would make New York the first city in the country to provide pro bono lawyers to any low-income residents facing eviction.
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. testified at the hearing that evictions fuel the city’s homelessness crisis.
“Anyone doubting the causal relationship between evictions and possessions of the dwellings of low-income tenants and homelessness need only look at the available data, which shows that thousands of families have just faced eviction at the time they entered the shelter system,” Diaz said.
The Bronx led all boroughs in the number of evictions recorded last year with 7,401, according to data compiled by Housing Court Answers, an organization that provides information and assistance in housing matters.
A total of 21,988 evictions occurred citywide last year.
The proposed bill would save the city $320 million annually, the New York City Bar Association asserts. The savings would be accrued in the costs of sheltering evicted tenants, replacing rent-regulated apartments that become market-rent units after evictions and providing other services to the homeless.
Diaz testified that “the deck remains stacked” against low-income tenants who appear in housing court without legal representation. The city's Office of Civil Justice found that, during a two-day study period in April, about 27 percent of tenants in 2,196 cases appeared in court with counsel.
“The benefits of this proposed law are considerable, and could help keep New Yorkers in their homes,” Diaz said “Too many families become homeless because they don’t have an advocate in court or someone to get them connected with housing financial assistance.”