A new proposal that would provided legal aid to low-income tenants facing eviction or foreclosure has been receiving a great deal of backing from advocacy groups as well as many politicians. Recently discussed by the NYC City Council, the newly proposed bill would require the city’s Office of Civil Justice to provide legal counsel or low-income tenants facing this situation.
Low-Income Tenants Face an Uphill Battle
Currently, an estimated 80 percent of tenants who are facing eviction are left to fend for themselves in housing court. In many cases, this is due to a lack of resources or a lack of understanding of the resources that are available to them. Yet, on the other end of the spectrum, 100 percent of landlords have legal representation. Clearly, this leaves them with a distinct advantage over tenants when facing legal battles.
Addressing the City’s Homeless Problems
In addition to helping residents receive the legal representation they deserve, the proposed bill also strives to address the homeless problem in New York City. According to Council Member Mark Levine, eviction is the most common reason why families end up in shelters. Furthermore, Levine claims that the number of families citing eviction as the cause for their homelessness has increased dramatically over the past ten years.
Assisting Low-Income Households
Under the guidelines of the proposed bill, tenants who make 200 percent of the federal poverty line would qualify to receive legal representation. For individuals, this means the cutoff would be $23,540. For a family of four, the cutoff would be $48,500. The proposal also calls for keeping rent-stabilized units available for those who need them rather than allowing them to give way to market-rate apartments as tenants lose their affordable housing as the result of an eviction. The bill would also help to ensure the rights of all citizens are upheld, including those who are not familiar with the city’s rent stabilization law.
Levine and City Council Member Vanessa Gibson are two of the bill’s biggest backers. Supporters of the bill – which also include several borough presidents, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, the NYC Bar Association, unions and many other officials – point out that having legal representation helps to significantly reduce the chance of a tenant being evicted. In fact, studies have shown that it reduces the chances of eviction by as much as 77percent. As such, the proposed bill has the potential to help thousands of people who might otherwise find themselves losing their homes.
Mayor de Blasio and the City Council have already started the process of increasing funding for legal services for low earners. Already, spending has increased from $6 million in 2014 to a projected $60 million by 2017. As a result, evictions have dropped by 24 percent. Nonetheless, backers of the proposed bill say more needs to be done, as nearly three-quarters of low-income tenants are still left with no legal assistance when facing eviction or foreclosure.