City Council Holds Hearing on Bill Guaranteeing Lawyer for Tenants Facing Eviction
The City Council recently held a hearing on a bill, known as 214-a, that would make New York City the first jurisdiction in the country to guarantee lawyers for any low-income residents facing eviction. Unlike defendants in criminal cases, individuals who cannot afford an attorney in civil proceedings, such as Housing Court cases, are not entitled to state-provided counsel. The hearing was held more than two years after the legislation was first proposed. Under the measure, tenants who make below 200 percent of the federal poverty line would qualify. For a single person, the cutoff would be $23,540; and for a family of four, it would be $48,500.
According to Public Advocate Letitia James, who spoke at a rally before the Courts and Legal Services Committee hearing, 90 percent of landlords in Housing Court cases are represented by counsel, compared to 10 percent of tenants. James said the eviction rate for tenants who represent themselves in Housing Court is 50 percent.
According to a study commissioned by the New York City Bar Association in March, this requirement would cover about 128,000 of the more than 150,000 tenants who face eviction in Housing Court each year. Providing legal representation to all low-income tenants would cost the city about $200 million a year, according to a March report by Stout Risius Ross, an independent advisory firm, for the bar association. But the report contends that the effort would save the city even more than that, over $300 million annually, by 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 housing.