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City must expand ‘Right to Counsel’ program to tenants

Henry Garrido

BY HENRY GARRIDO

New Yorkers have witnessed the decimation of one neighborhood after another. 

Communities where working people put down roots, raised their children and watched their children raise their children are now under siege. The battle is being fought apartment by apartment and building by building. 

Skirmishes occur throughout the day in the housing courts of our city where 50 judges decide the fate of thousands of cases each week. 

In 2017, the City Council enacted Right to Counsel legislation that guaranteed low-income tenants the right to have an attorney represent them in housing court eviction cases. We applaud this step. But more must be done and it must be done now. The current Right to Counsel law leaves too many working New Yorkers out in the cold. Single adults, working full time who earn $15 per hour, are excluded from this benefit, as working families of four who earn more than $51,500. 

For 43 years, DC 37, the City’s largest municipal labor union, has provided its 125,000 members and 50,000 retirees with attorneys to defend them in housing court when they are threatened with eviction, regardless of income. 

DC 37 knows that providing our members with lawyers works. 

It has proven to be an effective way to protect working families from homelessness and stem the loss of affordable housing. At minimal cost, giving our members a right to counsel has kept thousands of municipal workers out of the shelter system, enabled fragile families to remain intact and saved apartment after apartment from being removed from rent protections. 

Our attorneys investigate overcharges, fight for repairs, advocate for rental assistance and defend against baseless claims. DC 37 attorneys put our members on even ground when they come up against their landlord’s lawyer.  As a result, the tenants we represent are rarely evicted.    

Intro 1104, sponsored by Council Members Mark Levine and Vanessa Gibson, now pending before the City Council, would double the income limits for Right to Counsel from 200% of the federal poverty level to 400%. This will protect working New Yorkers threatened with eviction and the loss of their homes.  

In addition to expanding eligibility so working New Yorkers qualify for Right to Counsel, New Yorkers need to be informed of this important right.

Intro 1529, pending before the City Council, provides City funding for established tenant and community organizations to educate and inform tenants of their rights. 

The Right to Counsel has little value if it remains unknown. Funding to educate and inform is needed to make this work. 

Henry Garrido is Executive Director of District Council 37.

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