City to guarantee that low-income tenants get lawyers in housing court

De Blasio, Council to set aside an additional $93M for right-to-counsel program

Illustration of lawyers outside of the Bronx Housing Civil Court
Illustration of lawyers outside of the Bronx Housing Civil Court

The city is planning on setting aside an additional $93 million over the next year to provide free legal access in Housing Court to tenants facing eviction.

The funding will be on top of the $62 million per year that the city has allocated to expand legal services since 2014, and will make New York City the largest city in the country to offer universal access for tenants in Housing Court, Politico reported.

“To anyone being forced out of their home or neighborhood, we are fighting for you,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said during an affordable-housing rally Sunday on the Upper West Side as he announced the funding with Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito. “This is still your city.”

Spearheaded by Council members Mark Levine and Vanessa Gibson, the City Council has been pushing for the right to counsel for the past two years.

The new funding would begin with $15 million in Fiscal Year 2018 and reach $93 million by 2022. Free legal representation would be available to New Yorkers with household incomes below $50,000, which is 200 percent of the federal poverty level for a family of four. Those who make more would be eligible for free legal counseling.

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As it now stands, 90 percent of landlords usually have legal representation in Housing Court, while roughly 75 percent of tenants face the process without any legal support.

Supporters say the program will save the city up to $320 million each year by decreasing the amount the city has to spend to place evicted tenants into the shelter system.

But Rent Stabilization Association president Joseph Strasburg said that while he thinks the proposal is “a good concept,” it “places the burden of rectifying de Blasio’s miserable failure to address the homeless crisis squarely on the shoulders of the largest providers of affordable housing – landlords of 1 million rent-stabilized apartments in the five boroughs.”

De Blasio is running for re-election, and proposals such as this could appease critics who say his affordable housing plan is not moving quickly enough.

Last year, The Real Deal reported on the legal — but often questionable — methods some landlords use to evict rent-stabilized tenants[Politico] – Rich Bockmann

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