New York Goes to the Mattresses Against the Eviction Machine

Slate.svgBy Henry Grabar

As the Trump era drags on, the hope that cities would be bastions of resistance has melted into air. In some cases, cities don’t have the authority to serve as an effective bulwark against Republican control of statehouses and Washington, and against federal agencies like ICE. In others, they don’t have the capacity to preserve or increase protections for the poor and vulnerable.

But there is still room for big, simple victories, like the idea Mark Levine, a city councilman from upper Manhattan, has been working on since 2014: Hire lawyers for tenants in housing court. On Thursday, the New York City Council passed a bill that will guarantee, within five years, legal representation for all low-income tenants facing eviction. Mayor Bill de Blasio has indicated he will sign it. An independent study commissioned by the New York City Bar Association estimated the law could keep more than 5,000 families from homelessness every year.

Of all the ways that the American financial and legal system leaves renters at a disadvantage, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more unequal terrain than housing court. Nationwide, 90 percent of landlords have attorneys, but 90 percent of tenants do not. Tenants don’t show up to defend themselves or don’t know how. In a randomized experiment performed by the Legal Aid Society, eviction warrants declined 77 percent when the tenant had counsel.

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City Council Passes 'Right to Counsel' For Low-Income Tenants in Housing Court

Gotham_Gazette.pngBy Amanda Tukaj

The New York City Council passed a bill on Thursday to guarantee free legal services to low-income tenants facing eviction in housing court. The bill codifies an agreement, announced in February this year, between the Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio to fully fund anti-eviction legal services in the next five years.

The “Right to Counsel” legislation, Intro. 214, was sponsored by Council Members Mark Levine and Vanessa Gibson, who have consistently advocated for the bill since introducing it three years ago. Under the new law, the first of its kind in the country, the city’s Office of Civil Justice Coordinator will provide low-income tenants -- those with household incomes below $49,200, or 200 percent of the federal poverty level for a family of four -- with legal representation free of cost, phased in by zip codes over five years. The law will also provide legal consultations to those whose income is higher than the bill’s threshold and establish a legal services program by October this year for New York City Housing Authority tenants facing administrative proceedings to terminate their tenancy. The city has allocated $15 million to implement the new provisions in fiscal year 2018, increasing that to $93 million by 2022 by when it is expected to serve 400,000 New Yorkers.

The mood in the Council chambers before Thursday’s vote was celebratory as Council members expressed their support for the bill and congratulated their colleagues on achieving a key priority of the dominantly progressive body. At one point, the chamber filled with whoops and cheers from tenant advocates who had fought for the legislation and were there to see its passage. The bill passed with an overwhelming majority, with 42 Council members voting for it and one abstention. Only the three Republican members of the body voted against the bill.

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City Bar, Others Laud Passage of Civil 'Gideon' Bill

New_York_Law_Journal.gifBy Shibani Gokhale

The New York City Council's decision to offer free counsel to low-income tenants facing eviction is being applauded by legal service providers and the New York City Bar Association, which praised passage of the "historic legislation."

The city council on July 20 approved the "Right to Counsel in Housing Court," a bill that would establish programs to ensure legal representation for all tenants facing eviction within the next five years.

"Providing a lawyer to a tenant facing eviction not only increases the likelihood that the tenant will be able to avoid eviction, thereby reducing displacement, disruption, and homelessness, but should also be highly cost-effective," the city bar said in a statement.

According to a 2016 study by the city bar, there is a 77 percent decrease in eviction warrants issued to tenants who had an attorney in Housing Court, compared to those who did not, independent of the merit of the case.

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Tenants facing eviction will get lawyers paid for by city

New_York_Daily_News_logo.pngBy Erin Durkin

Tenants facing eviction will get lawyers paid for by the city under a bill passed by the City Council Thursday.

The legislation for the first time establishes a “right to counsel” in housing court — where unlike in criminal court, people have not been entitled to lawyers.

Almost all landlords have an attorney.

“No legal proceeding is fair if only one side has a lawyer,” said Councilman Mark Levine (D-Manhattan). “The worst landlords have used housing court as a weapon, hauling tenants into court on flimsy eviction cases because they knew that in the vast majority of cases the tenant would not have a lawyer.”

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NYC to Become First Jurisdiction in U.S. that will Guarantee Free Legal Representation for Low-Income Tenants in Housing Court

The Landmark Legislation, known as the Right to Counsel, Offers a Blueprint for Cities Across the Country

 **FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE** Thursday, July 20, 2017
Contact: Jake Sporn // 917-842-5748 // jsporn@council.nyc.gov

New York, NY The New York City Council today voted to pass Intro 214-B, a landmark bill sponsored by Council Members Mark Levine and Vanessa Gibson, that requires the Office of Civil Justice to establish a program for legal representation for low-income tenants facing eviction in housing court within five years, in addition to establishing a pilot program to provide legal services to all NYCHA tenants in administrative proceedings this fall.

New York City is the first jurisdiction in the country to require legal representation in housing court, sparking similar measures to be introduced in other cities, including Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia.

The legislation, first introduced by Council Member Levine in 2014, calls for the City to provide New Yorkers with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty line – or $49,200 annually for a family of four – free legal representation when facing eviction or foreclosure. The program is expected to help than 400,000 New Yorkers each year, according to a report by commissioned by the New York City Bar Association. Mayor Bill de Blasio has indicated his intention to sign the bill.

In 2015, nearly 22,000 New Yorkers were evicted from their homes. Only about 20 percent of those facing eviction are represented by an attorney, compared to nearly 100 percent of landlords. Studies show that having legal representation during housing court proceedings reduces the chances of eviction by 77%, and in some cases landlords simply drop their cases after learning the tenant has an attorney.

Prior to the passage of the bill, Council Member Levine fought to increase funding for anti-eviction legal services, from $6 million in FY14 to over $60 million in FY17, resulting in a corresponding 24% drop in evictions in the last three years.

For tenants such as Ms. LeVera S. of West Harlem, whose landlord moved to evict her after she fell behind on her rent, a lawyer paid for by the City was the only thing keeping her from being forced from her home. “Having a free housing attorney was vital in saving my home when my landlord brought holdover actions to evict us, claiming we had no rights,” said Ms. LeVera S. “Our attorney’s representation and assistance in subsequent harassment cases has been vital to me in keeping my home. I’m incredibly grateful to the City for passing this bill so that no New York tenant has to face eviction in housing court without representation.”

The City’s Independent Budget Office reports that eviction is the single most common reason that families in New York City end up in shelters, and over the past decade, the share of families citing eviction as the cause for their homelessness has increased dramatically. Evictions are also leading to a loss of affordable housing, as over half of the units vacated are rent stabilized, and many of those apartments then go market rate.

The full cost of implementing the Right to Counsel is estimated to be $155 million, but the City is estimated to  save up to $320 million by reducing shelter costs, preserving regulated, affordable apartments lost to evictions and other costs associated with homelessness.

“Too many of the most vulnerable New Yorkers face eviction simply because they don’t have the means to hire an attorney. Today, the passage of this bill marks the beginning of a new era for tenants in New York City,” said City Council Member Mark Levine, lead sponsor of Intro 214. “New Yorkers have a right to affordable housing and to a fair justice system. No longer will low-income New Yorkers have to fend for themselves in Housing Court. This new law is an historic step forward in the fight against unlawful evictions. I am honored to stand alongside my colleagues as New York becomes the first city in the country to guarantee legal representation for low-income tenants in Housing Court, and I look forward to working with elected officials across the country to draft similar legislation.”

“This is a monumental day for tenants and a historic day for the City of New York.  After four years of advocating, rallying, and marching, we can finally celebrate the passage of ground breaking legislation that will curb the homelessness epidemic and end the cycle of eviction plaguing New York City. With a right to counsel in place, tenants facing eviction will finally be on an even playing field with the landlords taking them to court. I am proud to have spent four years fighting for this critically important legislation and am so thankful to the many elected officials, advocates, tenant leaders, clergy leaders, and civil legal service providers who joined Council Member Mark Levine and me in bringing equity and justice to our housing court system,” said City Council Member Vanessa Gibson.

“An individual’s socioeconomic status should have no bearing on their access to competent legal representation, especially when it comes to matters being handled in housing court,” said Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “With this legislation, the Council reaffirms its commitment to protecting tenant rights across New York City, and I thank Council Members Mark Levine and Vanessa Gibson for their relentless dedication in pushing this legislation forward and pursuing justice for New Yorkers across the five boroughs.”

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RIGHT TO COUNSEL A VICTORY FOR NEW YORK CITY TENANTS

CityandState.pngBy Mark Levine

Every elected official knows constituents whose stories they will never forget. One of the most lasting for me is of a woman – I’ll call her Maria – who came to my office in tears after receiving an eviction order. She had been injured stepping on a broken stair in her apartment building, lost her job as a result, and was ultimately taken to court by a notoriously aggressive landlord for being unable to pay her rent. Without the money to afford a lawyer, she was forced to represent herself. Predictably, she ended up like thousands of other New Yorkers, forced from her home.

There’s hardly a member of the New York City Council who couldn’t share a similar story. That’s why today we will vote to make New York the first city in the nation to guarantee free legal representation for low-income New Yorkers facing eviction in housing court. The bill we are voting on today – Intro 214b – is expected to pass by a wide margin, and Mayor Bill de Blasio has already signaled his support. That means that beginning today, no low-income city resident will lose a home because he or she can’t afford a lawyer.

The bill’s passage will mark the beginning of a new era for tenants in this city.

Historically, fewer than 10 percent of tenants have had an attorney during an eviction proceeding, compared to nearly 100 percent of landlords. The results were predictably devastating – over 22,000 evictions a year, landing tens of thousands of New Yorkers in our city’s homeless shelters and on the streets. Among them are many who, like Maria, might still be in their homes if only they had an attorney.

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Taxpayers to fund legal help for tenants facing eviction under bill

SILive_logo.pngBy Anna Sanders

CITY HALL -- Council members are trying to ensure smaller Staten Island landlords are spared the brunt of a proposed law that would provide all tenants facing eviction with legal help. 

Taxpayers would give all low-income tenants facing eviction with full representation in housing court, while other renters would receive brief legal assistance under a bill from Council members Mark Levine (D-Manhattan) and Vanessa Gibson (D-Bronx) that's expected to pass the full Council on Thursday. 

Mayor Bill de Blasio is also expected to sign the bill. 

People have a right to counsel in criminal proceedings, but tenants aren't guaranteed help fighting eviction in housing court and the vast majority are fighting against landlords with pricey attorneys.

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City Council set to vote on bill to guarantee legal counsel to New York City tenants facing eviction

By Jillian JorgensenNew_York_Daily_News_logo.png

The City Council will vote next week to guarantee access to a lawyer in housing court for New Yorkers facing eviction, after reaching a deal on the particulars with Mayor de Blasio, one of the bill’s main sponsors told the Daily News.

The Council and the mayor’s office are still hammering out final details, but the legislation includes a pilot program for legal services for NYCHA residents, said Councilman Mark Levine (D-Manhattan).

The mayor signed on to the idea in February, after years of discussion around the legislation from Levine and Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson (D-Bronx).

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Council Member Mark Levine Statement on Renewal of Mayoral Control

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 29, 2017
CONTACT: Jake Sporn // 516-946-5253 // jsporn@council.nyc.gov

City Hall, NY -- “When I started my career as a high school teacher in the South Bronx, I saw firsthand how the old system left teachers demoralized and families frustrated. New Yorkers deserve great schools and a fair education system. Mayoral control empowers New York City to make real changes to strengthen our classrooms, and prioritize students over politics.

I applaud the state for extending mayoral control so we can get back to focusing on educating New York’s school children. This is a big win for students, parents, and teachers across the City.”

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Council Member Levine Statement on A Train Derailment

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 27, 2017
CONTACT: Jake Sporn // 516-946-5253 // jsporn@council.nyc.gov

Harlem, NY -- “New Yorkers already know the City’s subway system has become unreliable, but today’s A train derailment was a frightening demonstration that in extreme cases it can even be a threat to public safety. The MTA needs to recognize the severity of the problem so we can start a new conversation about what solutions are necessary before another accident like this occurs -- not after.

These issues must be met with immediate and dramatic action. New Yorkers have the right to a safe, reliable transit system so they can get to work, take their kids to school, and live their daily lives.

My thoughts are with the injured passengers and the families of those affected by today’s A train derailment. I am deeply grateful no lives were lost and applaud the NYPD and FDNY for their rapid response and safe evacuation of the passengers.”

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