After years of advocacy by Mobilization for Justice, Legal Services providers, tenants, community based groups, unions and others who came together as the Right to Counsel Coalition, the City Council voted on July 20, 2017 to establish a right to counsel in housing court for low-income tenants facing eviction.
“This is truly an historic moment in the tenants’ rights movement,” said Jeanette Zelhof, Executive Director of Mobilization for Justice. “The legislation will help to stem the loss of affordable housing by providing legal representation to New York City’s low-income tenants facing eviction, thereby leveling the playing field in Housing Court where landlords have historically had the upper hand.”
Mobilization for Justice Housing Supervisor Marti Weithman, who played an active role in the Coalition’s efforts, added: “Tenants who are aware of their Right to Counsel are more likely to assert their right to decent, safe homes because they know they will have legal help if they end up in court.”
Increased city funding for legal representation of tenants in housing court over the past two years has already had a profound impact. Evictions are down 24%, and the proportion of tenants represented went from a mere 1% prior to the increase to 27%. The new legislation will now make legal counsel available to 100% of low-income tenants who face eviction.
The Right to Counsel Coalition has argued that Right to Counsel will have a profound impact on homelessness and related costs, such as health care. A report by an independent private financial analysis firm showed that Right to Counsel will not only pay for itself but will save the city more than $320 million a year in homelessness-related costs.
Mobilization for Justice applauds Council Members Mark Levine and Vanessa Gibson for sponsoring this legislation, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Mayor de Blasio and HRA for its commitment to funding Right to Counsel, and the Right to Council Coalition – led by tenants and tenant organizations – for its leadership in bringing the long struggle for a right to counsel to this point.