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Support swells for 'right to counsel' for low-income New Yorkers facing eviction

Intro 214-A is the most popular bill at City Hall.
Mike Steele/Creative Commons

Legislators and activists petitioned Mayor Bill de Blasio at City Hall Tuesday to give low-income New Yorkers the right to an attorney when facing unjust evictions in housing court.

In 2015, de Blasio enacted a plan to support New Yorkers facing unfair evictions, one initiative of manyto reduce homelessness and its exorbitant costs to the city. Since he took office, money spent on eviction prevention increased tenfold to around $67 million — and evictions fell 24 percent.

The major changes to the current program would make it law that low-income New Yorkers are entitled to representation in court, similar to one's right to counsel in criminal court. It also would increase the eligibility threshold from 125 percent above the poverty line to 200 percent, the equivalent of $48,000 for a family of four.

The bill is the most popular piece of legislation facing City Hall right now, with 42 sponsors.

City Council Member Mark Levine, the main author of the bill, joined 6,763 others insigning a letter to the mayor that highlights the critical need for measure.

“New York City is losing its affordable housing stock at a rate faster than we can build,” the letter reads.

“It costs the city$36,000a year for a shelter bed, and about$250,000to build an affordable unit. There are many costs we can't calculate, like days lost from school, days lost from work, stress, and instability for families. Fullrepresentation in housing court costs about$2,000 - $3,200 per case.At a time of heightened inequality, the tale of two cities plays out in Housing Court like nowhere else.”

“Implementing a full right to counsel costs about $200 million,” a spokesperson for the Right to Counsel coalition told Metro. “It's an investment, because it would result in savings —it generates a savings of $300 million, so it pays for itself and generates more money.”

Tenants without attorneys are at a big disadvantage when facing landlords who want to vacate a rent-controlled unit in order to charge market rates, the advocates say. And frequently, landlords will simply drop a case if the tenant shows up with representation.

“There is no fairness in an eviction proceeding when the landlord has an attorney and the tenant does not, and that sadly is the precise situation faced by the vast majority of tenants today,” Levine said in a statement. “The results of this injustice are predictable: an epidemic of evictions. In 2015 alone, nearly 22,000 New York City families were evicted, with thousands more forced from their homes under duress mid-way through eviction proceedings.”

 

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