Elected officials and housing rights advocates rallied on Monday in City Hall Park to push for new bills aimed at funding the Right-to-Counsel.
Six years after the Right-to-Counsel law was passed, speakers lamented that they found themselves back to demand action on the topic. The Right-to-Counsel law mandates that those facing eviction be afforded a lawyer to help them navigate the legal complexities and emotional hardships resulting from the process.
However, according to the bills’ sponsor, City Council Member Shaun Abreu, the hard-fought law is currently severely underfunded, leaving some without lawful access.
“Though they are entitled to an attorney, less than 10% of cases, less than 10% of tenants at the end of last year were going through court without a lawyer, less than 10%. And we know that having a lawyer helps some stay in their home, 84% of tenants who had an attorney were able to stay in their home,” Abreu said. “Let’s be clear, this is a moral failure that we as a city must recognize.”
The new bill (Intro 921) would require that any party eligible for free legal counsel for an eviction proceeding be granted an adjournment by the court for additional time to ensure counsel. Tenant groups in support of the bill chanted and brandished banners, with some even going as far as to state that the city is performing an illegal action by allowing some residents to face eviction without the aid of an attorney.
According to City Comptroller Brad Lander, the median asking price for rent in the Big Apple is $3,450. Meanwhile, the homeless crisis is at a record high with some 72,000 people residing in homeless shelters, not including those staying in the mayor’s Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Centers.
“If you get evicted because you were denied your right to counsel in housing court, facing a shelter system crowded to historic highs, or you’re facing a housing market in which you can’t possibly afford to rent a new unit, that’s a housing crisis,” Lander said. “When the right to counsel went into effect evictions into homelessness fell by 30%. At the moment when this program was most fully implemented before the pandemic, 84% of tenants who got representation through right to counsel were able to stay in their home.”
Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson also attended the rally, charging that eight out of 10 evictions take place in her borough and therefore puts further hardships on the Black and Brown and low-income community.