Opening Statement on Right to Counsel Bill

COMMITTEE ON COURTS AND LEGAL SERVICES

PROPOSED INT. 214-2014

SEPTEMBER 26, 2016

HON. MARK D. LEVINE

OPENING  STATEMENT

The incredible turnout here is a testament to the seriousness of the issue we are addressing today.  We are here to address a crisis. That crisis is the threat of eviction faced by tens of thousands of tenants, our fellow New Yorkers, who are on an incredibly uneven playing field in a place where the standard should be fairness.

But there is no fairness in an eviction proceeding when the landlord has an attorney and the tenant does not.  And that sadly is precisely the situation faced by the vast majority of tenants today.

The results of this injustice are predictable: an epidemic of evictions - 22,000 last year alone.

The good news is we know how to bring that painfully high number down.

We know that when you provide a lawyer to a tenant their chances of avoiding eviction improve dramatically.

Anyone who doubts this only has to look at the numbers.  Over the past two years, thanks to an incredible commitment from both the mayor and the City Council we have dramatically increased our funding for anti-eviction legal services.

And this has resulted in a 24% drop in the numbers of evictions compared to two years ago.

This is an astounding result and one we should all be proud of.

But let’s not spend too much time patting ourselves on the back.  Because even today 73% of low-income tenants are still facing eviction proceedings without an attorney.

Our bill, intro 214 would change that. It would give every low-income tenant the right to an attorney.  And that will be a game change here in New York City, that will reverberate across the nation.

The moral case alone is enough for us to pass this bill.  But i hope this hearing today will also focus on the financial case.

Because establishing a right to counsel is an investment that will save our city millions of dollars every year.

The math is not that complicated.  It costs around $2,500 to provide a tenant a lawyer.  But if that same tenant were to have no lawyer, and would be evicted, and--as happens in so many cases when families are evicted--were to wind up homeless, it would cost the city tens of thousands of dollars:

  • in shelter costs

  • In extra services in schools

  • In extra emergency room visits

  • In increased applications for unemployment benefits

  • In increased mental health services

And since over half of evictions are in rent-regulated units, and we all know those units often go market-rate once vacant, when we invest in lawyers to prevent evictions we also save thousands of affordable apartments, which otherwise the city would have to spend millions of dollars to replace.

But don’t take my word for it.  Look at what the experts say.

The New York City Bar Association commissioned a report by the respected financial analytics firm Stout Risius Ross which concluded that intro 214 would ultimately save New York City no less than $320 million each year.

So for moral and financial reasons I urge my colleagues to support this bill.

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