Pro Bono News

Eviction Representation: A Critical Component of Housing Justice

Monday, November 26, 2018

Eviction Representation: A Critical Component of Housing Justice

"Even while Matthew Desmond was making eviction a national issue through his groundbreaking work, activists were already shining a spotlight on the inherent imbalance of unrepresented tenants in eviction courts around the country. NPQ highlighted the problem in a 2015 article on Baltimore’s “rent court,” where the vast majority of tenants went unrepresented when facing an eviction judge.

In 2016, NPQ reported on housing activists in NYC who were making claims for a right to representation in eviction court. Prompted by the Right to Counsel NYC Coalition, the City of New York established the Office of Civil Justice (OCJ) and initiated the Universal Access to Justice program. Now, that office has issued its first report on the program which provides legal representation and other services to low-income New Yorkers.

It should be no surprise to learn that expanded legal representation in NYC is reducing involuntary displacement by eviction. In the Next City analysis of the new report, Kelly Regan says, “21,955 city residents across 7,847 households who were threatened with eviction were able to remain in their homes after securing legal representation from OCJ-funded lawyers.”

Twenty nonprofit legal assistance organizations are the workforce for the OCJ eviction initiative. Besides court appearances, “OCJ’s contracted legal providers assisted New York City tenants in other legal proceedings to preserve and protect tenants’ housing and to demand or maintain habitable conditions, and in other proceedings and litigation that take place both in and outside of Housing Court.” Other legal issues include landlord harassment and retaliation. Eligibility for legal representation is based on households being below 200 percent of the federal poverty rate..."

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