The implementation of the program citywide happened ahead of the scheduled 2022 goal. On November 17, 2021, the de Blasio administration released the Right to Counsel Progress Report for Fiscal Year 2021. The Right to Counsel Program works to address the gap in access to legal representation for tenants in eviction cases.
In 2017, Local Law 136, the Universal Access to Legal Services or “Right to Counsel” law was enacted. The law required the Office of Civil Justice to provide free legal representation to low income tenants making no more than 200 percent of the federal poverty level in eviction proceedings in housing court or tenancy termination from NYCHA in certain zip codes. Earlier this year, the City Council passed legislation that expanded the Right to Counsel program citywide. The program makes New York City the first jurisdiction in the United States to guarantee legal services for tenants in eviction cases. Other cities and jurisdictions are implementing similar programs after seeing the success of the Right to Counsel program in New York City.
According to the report, through the citywide implementation of the program, 100 percent of tenants with calendared evictions had access to legal services. Seventy-one percent of tenants who appeared in Housing Court had attorneys to fully represent them; this was almost double the rate of tenants with full representation prior to the pandemic of 38 percent. Since 2014, over half a million New Yorkers have received legal services provided by the City. Approximately 100,000 New Yorkers utilized this during the pandemic. Data reflects that the majority of tenants who receive City-funded legal representation are successful in their cases, with 84 percent of represented households able to remain in their homes.
The City has invested $166 million to expand the program citywide, and the expansion was completed ahead of the scheduled 2022 goal.
The City will implement a large-scale Right to Counsel advertising campaign to educate New Yorkers dealing with housing instability about the resources available to them. The campaign will be in 15 languages and in print and digital media citywide. The campaign will point New Yorkers to the Tenant Helpline, established last year by the Mayor’s Office to Protect Tenants and the Public Engagement Unit. Callers to 311 who request help with right to counsel will be directed to the Tenant Helpline, which is now a permanent team within the Public Engagement Unit. Callers to the Tenant Helpline will speak with Public Engagement Unit Housing Specialists who identify the caller’s needs and connect them with resources and provide case management.
To read the City’s report, click here.
Mayor Bill de Blasio stated, “Building the fairest big city in the country means making sure all tenants can continue to call New York City home. This game-changing program has yielded staggering results – protecting families from harassment and providing legal services to all tenants facing eviction, cementing its status as a national model for increasing housing stability and preventing homelessness.”
Council Member Mark Levine stated, “The passage of the Right to Counsel law was a historic step towards justice in New York City’s housing courts, where for generations the vast majority of tenants faced the threat of eviction without the benefit of legal representation. The data included in this report continues to show emphatically that the Right to Counsel program is working above our high expectations to keep New Yorkers in their homes, off the streets, and out of the shelter system. This game-changing program has helped thousands of New Yorkers over the precarious months of this pandemic and will be vital to thousands more as these challenges continue to leave so many families vulnerable to losing their homes.
By: Veronica Rose (Veronica is the CityLaw fellow and a New York Law School graduate, Class of 2018.)