Guaranteed Legal Aid May Become a Reality for Low-Income Tenants in New York

Last week the New York City Council held a hearing concerning a bill that would guarantee low-income tenants a lawyer, provided by the Office of Civil Justice, when facing eviction charges.

The pending legislation, Intro 214-A, would apply to any individual who makes less than $23,450 or any family of four or more people with a household income of $48,500. The bill has garnered immense backing from city council officials and an extensive coalition of labor unions, multiple borough presidents, the New York City Bar Association, and other tenant advocates, according to the New York Times.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has yet to come out for or against the bill. However, earlier in the fiscal year, the Mayor allocated $62 million towards advancing legal support for low-income tenants.  While evictions in the city have seen a reduction, 22,000 people were removed from their homes last year and over 70 percent did not have legal aid in Housing Court cases.

This bill holds the potential to create instrumental change in the lives of low-income residents dealing with New York City’s affordable housing crisis and those being taken advantage of by unlawful landlords. According to Councilman Mark D. Levine the “Housing Court is a weapon that unscrupulous landlords use to displace tenants,” and he feels this bill would significantly work in “leveling the playing field,” considering nearly all landlords are represented by a lawyer.

The threat of eviction disproportionately targets low-income women, and the rate increases among women of color, victims of domestic abuse and LGBTQ individuals. The proposal of Intro 214-A, follows legislation passed this July in New York City, which offers housing protection to victims of domestic violence. On the national level, 11 percent of evictions “involve victims of domestic violence who are evicted due to abuse.”

Providing a lawyer for low-income tenants can be a vital step in decreasing the rates of homelessness, especially for those communities who are disproportionately impacted. According to the New York Times, the bill will reportedly save the city more than $300 million a year as a result of “keeping 5,237 families a year out of shelters, at a cost of $43,000 per family, along with other savings, such as through the preservation of rent-regulated affordable housing.”

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