By 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.