350,000 New Yorkers Receiving Free Legal Help To Fight Evictions Through Right To Counsel

December 13, 2019

The de Blasio Administration today announced the expansion of its right-to-counsel initiative to five new neighborhoods: Morris Heights in the Bronx, East New York in Brooklyn, East Harlem, and Inwood in Manhattan, and Far Rockaway in Queens. The City’s right-to-counsel initiative is the first in the nation’s plan to provide guaranteed free legal representation to tenants facing eviction in the housing court.

“No person should lose their home because they cannot afford a lawyer, and New York City is the first city in the country to make this a reality. Over 350,000 New Yorkers have received free legal assistance so far, setting us on the course to be the fairest, a big city in America,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Through this initiative and the Administration’s unprecedented investments in increased legal services for tenants citywide—a staggering 21-fold increase from $6 million to $128 million—more than 350,000 New Yorkers have received free legal representation, advice, or assistance in eviction and other housing-related matters since 2014, with 30 percent fewer evictions in 2018 than 2013 as a result.

Since the City began implementing its ‘Universal Access’ initiative in 2017, 1 in 3 New Yorkers facing eviction now have right to free legal representation in court. Prior to this administration, approximately 1 in 100 tenants facing eviction had access to such services.

Last fiscal year alone, legal organizations funded by the City through HRA’s Office of Civil Justice (OCJ) provided legal assistance to more than 105,000 New Yorkers across 41,000 households––the first time OCJ’s tenant legal services programs have provided assistance to over 100,000 New Yorkers in a single fiscal year. This reflects a 24% increase in households served compared to the prior year and a 74% increase compared to FY2017, before the formal launch of right-to-counsel.

Right-to-counsel in New York City is being implemented via a phased-in “ZIP-by-ZIP” approach that has enabled OCJ to partner with the Housing Court administration and legal services providers to facilitate a meaningful and effective method of providing access to counsel based on need. As a result, communities in need have seen a significant increase in the availability of legal services. Next week, the following ZIP Codes will begin receiving right-to-counsel services:

  • 10453, Morris Heights, Bronx
  • 11207, East New York, Brooklyn
  • 10029, East Harlem, Manhattan
  • 10034, Inwood, Manhattan
  • 11691, Far Rockaway, Queens

Implementation through 2022 will follow the same “ZIP-by-ZIP” approach.

The expansion will be accompanied by a citywide campaign to launch in 2020 getting the word out about available resources and encouraging families experiencing housing instability to reach out. If you or someone you know is worried about losing your home, our City is here to help. Don’t hesitate—talk to a lawyer today.

Cities across the country have looked to Universal Access as a success. Unlike in New York City where investments in legal services are helping reduce evictions, evictions are up nationwide. As a result, cities across the country are looking at this Administration’s programs and successes as models, implementing their own versions of this program to provide similar protection to their residents:

  • Cities with established right-to-counsel laws, programs, and/or initiatives:
  • Localities where right-to-counsel is being considered and/or pursued:

“Helping New Yorkers stay in their homes is a cornerstone of our work to prevent homelessness,” said Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Dr. Raul Perea-Henze. “The legal services provided by the Office of Civil Justice in our Human Resources Administration empower New Yorkers with tools to bridge the justice gap, and build the foundation for more stable and healthier communities. With the expansion to new zip codes, these services will continue to make a strong impact where the need is greatest.”

“Tenant harassment and unlawful evictions are the front lines of the City’s affordability crisis. When New Yorkers know their rights and have access to free legal counsel, they can stay in their homes,” said Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Vicki Been.” We look forward to more families getting the help they need, and will continue to preserve and build affordable housing to keep people in their homes and in the neighborhoods they love.”

While evictions are up all across the country, they are down in New York City because of the game-changing impact of providing lawyers for tenants in eviction cases, with the result that more than 100,000 New Yorkers have been able to avoid eviction and homelessness,” said Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks. “When the de Blasio administration took office, only 1 in 100 tenants facing eviction in housing court had a lawyer or access to legal services, with New Yorkers in need navigating a complex process that all too often stacked the deck against them. In less than three years, our City’s right-to-counsel initiative has helped dramatically level the playing field, with 1 in 3 tenants now receiving City-funded legal services in eviction cases. Access-to-counsel is not only keeping New Yorkers in their homes, but preserving stability and affordable housing across the five boroughs.”

“Our right-to-counsel results show that New York City is leading the nationwide fight to put the power back in tenants’ hands,” said Human Resources Administrator Grace Bonilla. “The incredible success this initiative has had in reducing residential evictions across New York City is inspiring the country to follow suit, with similar programs being implemented from San Francisco to Newark. We are on track to take this progress even further and look forward to delivering this resource to more New Yorkers across more neighborhoods, ensuring that all New Yorkers facing housing instability are provided with the legal resources they need to stay in their homes and communities.”

“With our latest expansion of the City’s groundbreaking Universal Access initiative, HRA’s Office of Civil Justice and its partners will continue to close the “justice gap” for tenants facing eviction, and will continue making New York City the national leader in increasing, innovating and improving access to civil justice for people in need,” said Civil Justice Coordinator Jordan Dressler.

“The expansion of Right-to-Counsel further demonstrates this Administration’s dedication to leveling the playing field and making NYC the fairest big city,” said Mayor’s Public Engagement Unit Director Omar Khan. “As with any smart progressive policy, we must ensure that tenants facing eviction or other housing-related issues are aware of the free City services available to them, and I am pleased that PEU’s proactive outreach on this issue will continue to expand as the Universal Access program is rolled out citywide.”

“Everyone deserves access to legal counsel regardless of economic background. The expansion of Mayor de Blasio’s “right-to-counsel” initiative will help ensure underserved communities can access the legal help they need if they face eviction or other housing-related challenges. No one should lose their home simply because they are unable to afford a lawyer.  New York is once again leading the way in promoting access to civil legal aid, something I have fought for throughout my time in Congress,” said Congressman Jose E. Serrano.

“The expansion of Right to Counsel is a critical piece of tenant protections in New York City, especially in the Inwood neighborhood I represent that has seen an uptick in displacement attempts since the predatory rezoning of August 2018,” said State Senator Robert Jackson. “ By providing a right to legal services for tenants in this area, the City is showing a commitment to mitigating the impact of these predatory policies; RTC works in concert with expanded tenant protections we passed this year to keep more tenants in their homes and their communities. I look forward to seeing this program rolled out as soon as possible in Washington Heights ZIP codes 10033 and 10040, where displacement attempts are also rampant.”

“When only 1 in 100 tenants had counsel in eviction proceedings, tenants were left to defend themselves in a complex system that favored landlords, said Assembly Member Robert Rodriguez. “ We have since changed the laws to better protect tenants, and Right to Counsel has drastically reduced evictions. The expansion of the program will give the most vulnerable tenants in working-class communities like East Harlem a true fighting chance to stay in their home, and bring us one step closer to the day where no tenant is without counsel.”

“I would like to express my appreciation to Mayor de Blasio and his Administration for their expansion efforts in ensuring that access to counsel is available for everyone who needs it, said Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte. “The courts are a critical component in executing a just process.  Without proper legal representation, this process can be detrimental for families with the last impact on their well being.”

“Housing is a human right and no one should face housing instability or homelessness because they can’t afford legal representation,” said Assembly Member Al Taylor. “By providing free legal services to tenants facing eviction in housing court this city is ensuring our neighborhoods and communities remain stable and fewer people are forced to live in shelters or on the streets.  I am thrilled by the success of this program thus far and look forward to its expansion to more local communities and other cities nationwide.”

“The data clearly shows what we knew all along: a right to counsel in housing cases puts power into tenants’ hands and prevents evictions. We must continue the fight to expand a right to counsel for housing-related matters not just across our city, but our whole entire state. I look forward to continuing this fight with an empowered tenant movement and I commend the Mayor,  Council, and tenant leaders for getting us where we are today,” said Assembly Member Harvey Epstein.

“Right to counsel is one of the biggest accomplishments of the Council’s last session and I thank my colleagues Mark Levine and Vanessa Gibson and my predecessor Speaker Mark-Viverito for their leadership and determination in making it happen. This Council welcomes this expansion and will continue to do everything in our power to protect tenants,” said Council Speaker Corey Johnson.

“The results are in, and the Right to Counsel program is a roaring success,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “This is the culmination of years of organizing and advocacy efforts, and it’s gratifying to celebrate the impact of this program. I am especially grateful and happy to celebrate the inclusion of Manhattan zip codes 10029 (East Harlem) and 10034 (Inwood).  We must move forward with the expansion of the program—both by raising the income limit to 400% of the poverty level and by providing funding for outreach and organizing by local community groups to ensure all who are eligible can access the program.”

New York City’s first-in-the-nation right to counsel law has been a game-changer for tenants,” said Council Member Mark Levine. “In every zip code where the program has been phased in so far we’ve seen a reduction in the number of evictions–meaning thousands of families have been able to remain in their homes and avoid homelessness.  I am thrilled the City is now rolling out the program in additional zip codes, ensuring that ever more tenants can achieve fairness in housing court.  I look forward to continuing to work with the administration to ensure that truly every vulnerable tenant benefits from this program.”

“Right to Counsel has been a truly transformative resource for families and individuals facing eviction in New York City. By providing eligible tenants free legal representation in housing court, we are drastically changing the landscape of evictions across the city with a measure that works. With evictions down 30%, we look forward to the new zip codes that are being added as we continue to expand this life changing Initiative. I am extremely proud of our investment in Right to Counsel, which has leveled the playing field for tenants and given families a powerful tool in Housing Court. I’m thankful for the RTC Coalition Members, my Colleague Mark Levine, elected officials and housing advocates who have been strong champions and supporters of legal representation for tenants in Housing Court,” said Council Member Vanessa Gibson.

“The right-to-counsel initiative provides essential legal services to thousands of residents across all five boroughs. Thanks to the program, low-income residents receive the legal support that they need to fight evictions, helping folks stay in their homes while stabilizing housing in New York City. I am proud that New York City is home to such an innovative initiative, and I applaud the de Blasio administration for its recently announced expansion of the program,” said Council Member Antonio Reynoso.

“Many of the tenants facing eviction come from poor, under-served, and immigrant communities. These communities are among the most vulnerable in our City. The right to council for tenants initiative is the nation’s largest and first of its kind to be implemented on this scale,” said Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez. “I am happy to know that Inwood will now be one of the zip codes covered by this initiative. I will continue working alongside Mayor de Blasio, speaker Corey Johnson, colleagues and advocates to ensure we protect the rights of all tenants.”

“Right to counsel has proven to be an incredible success. For the second year in a row, 84% of tenants who had an attorney through Right to Counsel stayed in their homes. With this most recent expansion, we are excited to be one step closer towards full implementation of this powerful new right,” said Susanna Blankley, Coalition Coordinator, Right to Counsel NYC Coalition.

“In a housing court eviction case, having a lawyer can make the difference between a family staying in their home or losing the roof over their heads. That is why New York City tenants fought for a Right to Counsel,” said Marika Dias, Director of the Tenant Rights Coalition at Legal Services NYC. “NYC’s groundbreaking Right to Counsel program has already helped keep thousands of low-income tenants in their homes, providing them with high-quality legal representation so they can fight tenant harassment, address illegal rents, and get much-needed repairs. We welcome this next stage in the phase-in of the Right to Counsel program and look forward to continuing our partnership with the City and tenants citywide to address the current eviction crisis.”

“CAMBA applauds Mayor de Blasio and the City Council once again for their tremendous leadership and vision in passing the nation’s first law to ensure Universal Access to a lawyer for tenants facing eviction in housing court, and now on adding yet another 5 zip codes of coverage,” said Joanne M. Oplustil, President & CEO, CAMBA, Inc. “This is another huge step forward in moving us to a place where ALL New Yorkers, especially the poorest and most vulnerable, have truly meaningful access to justice in housing court by having an attorney by their side to protect their homes, and keep them stably housed within their communities.”

“For over 50 years Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A has been fighting alongside our clients to ensure decent, affordable housing for all residents of our city. We applaud the City’s continued roll-out of Universal Access as part of the movement against the displacement of low-income communities and inequality in housing courts,” said Jessica Rose, Executive Director, Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A.

“Mobilization for Justice is proud to participate in UAC in the Bronx, the poorest county in one of the richest cities in the country.  By preserving housing for poor New Yorkers, we stabilize the lives of individuals, families and their communities,” said Jeanette Zelhof, Executive Director, Mobilization for Justice.

“NYLAG is extremely proud to be a part of the next phase of City’s Universal Access to Counsel in Housing Court program, said Beth Goldman, NYLAG’s President & Attorney-in-Charge. “We look forward to continuing our partnership with the Human Resources Administration to ensure that every eligible New Yorker facing eviction has the right to a lawyer in Housing court.”

“Working with NYC and our community partners in the Right to Counsel program—providing attorneys to represent New Yorkers being evicted from their homes—has been both exciting and humbling,” said Leslie Thrope, Executive Director of Housing Conservation Coordinators. “Tenants now know they will be able to have an advocate who understands their rights and will assert them in Court. A clear victory for the justice movement.”

“NMIC is proud to stand with HRA and the Administration in support of Universal Access to Legal Services (UA),” said Rodrigo Sanchez-Camus, Esq, Director of Legal, Organizing, & Advocacy Services, Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation Legal Services. “The current expansion will broaden the community of tenants who are able to access legal representation to preserve their homes. UA is crucial to the preservation of our communities and we look forward to continuing these services until all eligible New York City tenants are covered.”

“Lenox Hill Neighborhood House is thrilled that the Universal Access to Counsel Program is expanding to include zip code 10029 in East Harlem. 88% of current rental units in East Harlem are subsidized, rent-stabilized, or public housing, and 23% of East Harlem residents are severely rent-burdened. Tenants will benefit greatly from additional access to free legal representation in Housing Court, which will help them fight for their right to remain in their affordable housing. We are proud to be part of this historic program,” said Elizabeth Grossman, Legal Advocacy Director, Lenox Hill Neighborhood House.

“Enforcing the procedural rights of tenants is a necessary step to give communities the tools they need to build grassroots power. We stand with the tenants who are organizing and applaud the City’s efforts to achieve a robust implementation of the right to counsel in housing court,” said Michael Leonard, Senior Staff Attorney at TakeRoot Justice.

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