OCJ Releases 'Right to Counsel' Progress Report
The Office of Civil Justice (OCJ) within the New York City Human Resources Administration recently released a report on the fourth year’s implementation of the Universal Access to Legal Services or “Right to Counsel” law that was enacted in 2017. The law required the Office of Civil Justice to provide free legal representation to low-income tenants making no more than 200 percent of the federal poverty level in eviction proceedings in housing court or tenancy termination from NYCHA in certain ZIP codes. Earlier this year, the City Council passed legislation that expanded the Right to Counsel program citywide, regardless of ZIP code. The program makes New York City the first jurisdiction in the United States to guarantee legal services for tenants in eviction cases.
According to the report, in FY 2021, there were an estimated 57,964 residential eviction petitions filed citywide in NYC Housing Court, in which an estimated 122,452 individuals were named as respondents. This reflects a decline of approximately 49,000 eviction case filings compared to the same period last year, or a 46 percent decrease, likely driven by the statewide legal restrictions on eviction filings and changes to case processing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite this steep drop in filings, however, the number of households receiving legal services from OCJ’s legal services providers increased by roughly 11 percent compared to FY 2020, and reflected a 79 percent increase compared to FY 2017, before the formal launch of the Universal Access program to implement the city’s right-to-counsel law.
The city invested $166 million to expand the program citywide, and the expansion was completed ahead of the scheduled 2022 goal. To increase awareness of the Right to Counsel program and its expansion, the city is implementing a large-scale Right to Counsel advertising campaign. The campaign will be available in 15 languages and will include targeted advertisements in multiple languages in both print and digital media, including community and ethnic media publications across the five boroughs.