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City Report Reveals Major Increase In The Number Of Tenants In Housing Court Who Have Legal Representation

Three years ago just 1 in 100 tenants in housing court had representation. Today, more than 1 in 4 have representation

Office of Civil Justice report shows number of tenants in eviction proceedings with legal representation in court has increased to 27 percent from 1 percent in 2013

City funding for free or low-cost legal assistance will exceed $100 million in Fiscal Year 2017

NEW YORK—Mayor Bill de Blasio recently released the findings of the Office of Civil Justice’s first annual report, which show that 27 percent of tenants in Housing Court for eviction proceedings have legal representation – up from 1 percent in 2013. As a result of annual investments totaling over $100 million in civil legal services of all types under Mayor de Blasio, evictions have fallen 24 percent in the last two years according to the report.

The report details the various legal needs common among low-income New Yorkers, and the effect of providing free and low-cost legal services to meet those needs, with a special focus on legal services for tenants facing evictions, harassment and other housing-related problems.

“As we face one of the most serious affordable housing crises in our city’s history, we have made an unprecedented commitment to provide legal assistance for low-income New Yorkers, and we are beginning to see the results of these efforts,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “The Office of Civil Justice’s first annual report documents the progress we have made in providing New Yorkers in need with access to quality legal representation, particularly to prevent evictions and harassment by unscrupulous landlords.”

“The New York City Council is committed to ensuring better access to justice in civil legal matters for our residents,” said Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “Our creation of the Office of Civil Justice was an important first step and this initial report is a promising indication that the work we’re doing is making a difference for our most vulnerable citizens. We look forward to continuing to collaborate with the Office and the administration as we plan for even more robust access to justice for low-income New Yorkers, and we remain committed to continuing to bring equity and justice to New Yorkers in every borough. I would like to thank Council Members Mark Levine and Vanessa Gibson for their leadership on this issue.”

“Under Mayor de Blasio’s administration, New York City has become a national leader in the provision of legal services for low-income families and individuals,” said Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks. “Based at the Human Resources Administration, the Office of Civil Justice offers critical assistance that can truly make a difference in the lives of tens of thousands of New Yorkers in need who otherwise would not be able to afford legal representation. This report provides a clear picture of who those New Yorkers are and what we need to do to support them.”

For Fiscal Year 2017, City funding for legal services addressing the needs of low-income New Yorkers will total $110 million; including $82 million from mayoral initiatives, and nearly $28 million from City Council discretionary funds. Through the Human Resource Administration’s (HRA) Tenant Support Unit (TSU), mayoral funding for legal services for tenants facing eviction or harassment has increased to approximately $62 million, 10 times the investment made by the previous administration. The TSU proactively engages with New Yorkers through door-to-door outreach, connecting them with vital services and case managing their issues to resolution.

During FY17, this additional investment is expected to provide housing-related legal services to 33,000 low-income households, including a total of 113,000 New Yorkers. As these expanded tenant legal services – including anti-eviction and anti-harassment legal programs funded through HRA – are being fully-implemented, the increase in funding over the last two years is already yielding positive results. In 2015, there were 21,988 marshals’ evictions, compared to 26,857 in 2014 and 28,849 in 2013 – a significant two-year decline of 24 percent.

Other key findings of the report are:

  • More than half of the legal representation for tenants who appear in Housing Court for eviction cases is provided by non-profit legal services organizations serving low income New Yorkers.
  • The average anti-eviction legal service client is 43 years old and resides in a household of three.
  • 99 percent of landlords in eviction proceedings in court have legal representation.

See a copy of the report here.

“New York City has made an investment in civil legal services larger than any other municipality, and this first Annual Report is the Administration’s latest step towards ensuring that low-income New Yorkers have access to a fair and equitable civil justice system” said Jordan Dressler, Civil Justice Coordinator. “The findings in this Report will establish a solid foundation for discussions about the future of civil legal assistance for low-income people in New York City.”

Pursuant to legislation sponsored by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Council Member Mark Levine, the Office of Civil Justice (OCJ) was formally created in June 2015 when Mayor de Blasio signed Local Law 61 into law and placed the office under HRA, the agency in charge of addressing poverty, income inequality and reducing homelessness. Its main focus is to provide coordination, planning, and oversight of city resources and programs to meet the civil legal needs of low-income New Yorkers.

OCJ is required to prepare an annual report and to develop a five-year plan based on the information provided in these reports. In addition, it makes budget recommendations on funding, and provides outreach and education about the legal services programs.

As part of its effort to consolidate and enhance civil legal services in New York City, the Administration has also increased mayoral funding in the Fiscal Year 2017 adopted budget for legal assistance for low-income immigrant New Yorkers, including: $7.9 million for legal services and community outreach as part of the ActionNYC program; and $8.5 million in funding for the Immigrant Opportunity Initiative legal services programs.

"This landmark report provides us the most complete picture we've ever had of the New Yorkers whose lives hang in the balance in housing court. Thankfully, our rapidly increasing investment in tenant legal services has already brought about a significant drop in evictions. I look forward to further gains for our city's most vulnerable as we continue to scale up these vital services," said Council Member Mark Levine.

“Whether or not you can afford a lawyer should not be the determining factor between staying in your home and becoming homeless. At a time when tenant harassment and abuse is at an all-time high, tenants need someone on their side to fight back. By providing legal representation to our most needy the City is leveling the playing field and keeping tenants in their homes. This report highlights the progress being made in the midst of the housing affordability crisis, and I applaud the Mayor's continued commitment to this groundbreaking initiative,” said Council Member Stephen Levin, Chair of the General Welfare Committee.

“This report confirms what many of us have long known: City funded legal services protects tenants from harassment and eviction while preserving the long term affordability of New York City. The investments the Administration has made to protect those facing eviction have proven to be important and successful steps in our ongoing efforts to create a more fair and just City. I commend Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito for their leadership, and I look forward to working with my partner in the fight for right to counsel, Council Member Mark Levine, and all of the advocates and stakeholders as we work to further expand protections for tenants in housing court,” said Council Member Vanessa L. Gibson.

“Given the lack of affordable, quality housing opportunities in the city, many bad-acting landlords continue to take advantage of our City’s most vulnerable residents. This is why, as Chair of the Committee on Housing and Buildings, we’ve held numerous hearings and passed a number of bills aimed at helping keep people in their homes, and preventing illegal, unlawful activities aimed at pressuring them out. I’m pleased that the administration, and the council, is continuing its efforts to protect those who need it most,” said Council Member Jumaane D. Williams, Chair of the Housing and Buildings Committee.

“Representation in Housing Court is vital if we’re going to un-stack the deck for New York City’s tenants,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “Civil legal services are a wise, practical investment that promotes fairness, prevents homelessness, and helps keep precious rent-regulated apartments from being lost.”

"Without representation, tenants facing eviction find themselves on an uneven playing field that far too often leaves them without a place to live," said State Senator Adriano Espaillat. "This report shows that we are starting to move in the right direction, providing more tenants with the legal aid they need to keep their homes. I commend Mayor de Blasio for his commitment to evening the playing field for our city's tenants in housing court."

"New York City has made great strides in providing legal representation to those who need it most. I applaud Mayor de Blasio and the City Council for increasing the City funding for free or low-cost legal assistance to over $100 million. This additional funding will help even more New Yorkers gain access to quality legal representation,” said State Senator José M. Serrano.

“No tenant in New York City should lose their home because they lack the resources to afford adequate legal representation,” said State Senator Gustavo Rivera. “Due to this investment, my office has been able to help hundreds of constituents avoid unnecessary evictions and get the repairs they need. I look forward to continue working with Mayor de Blasio’s administration in providing New Yorkers greater access to rental assistance programs and quality legal representation to help fight our City’s affordable housing crisis.”

“Families in Housing Court are focused on keeping stable homes and protecting their rights during what are often some of the most stressful times they will ever experience,” said Assembly Member Latoya Joyner. “Expanding access to needed legal counsel is an important step toward leveling the playing field and ensuring that the fundamental rights of Bronx families are respected. I appreciate the determined efforts Mayor de Blasio and his administration have put into expanding the right to counsel for our families.”

"With rent prices going up in every neighborhood across the city, the most affected are always working-class and immigrant families - families that are not used to legal representation or simply cannot afford it. It is heartwarming to know that our efforts to protect the most vulnerable are showing results," said Assembly Member Guillermo Linares. "However, we cannot stop here. We must address the root of the problem in order to stop putting people in positions where they need to use legal counsel to keep a roof over the head."

“The Legal Aid Society has long argued that providing access to legal representation to low-income tenants facing eviction, the most vulnerable and least likely to seek or afford representation legal representation, would result not only in a decrease of evictions and homelessness, but in an overall financial savings to the City. We are pleased that the City’s data shows that providing access to legal services is resulting in marked decreased evictions as well as a more just court process, ” said Magda Rosa-Rios, Director of the Tenant Rights Campaign at the Legal Aid Society.

“The Office of Civil Justice’s report demonstrates what advocates have long known – that anti-eviction and anti-harassment legal services keep families in their homes and protect New York City’s diverse and vibrant communities,” said Raun Rasmussen, Executive Director of Legal Services NYC. “The City’s unprecedented investment in these services provides a national model for eviction prevention, and has made New York City fairer and more just for all.”

"For far too long, the deck has been stacked against tenants facing eviction because they lacked the resources to hire an attorney to defend their rights. The City's provision of these critical resources is leveling the playing field and helping vulnerable populations avoid eviction and homelessness,” said Reverend Patrick J. Keating, Chief Executive Officer of Catholic Migration Services.

“Housing Conservation Coordinators applauds Mayor de Blasio and the Council for their significant investment in legal services. Providing greater access to legal services is a common sense approach to reducing evictions and homelessness. It is not only cost effective in that it saves taxpayer dollars by avoiding shelter enrollments, but has immeasurable benefits to those families who avoid eviction, and thus the negative ramifications of homelessness, such as disruption in school enrollments, missed school days, and lost wages or employment from days taken off work. This Administration’s historic investment in legal services has proven to be effective in reducing evictions, improving access to justice for low income families, and in the midst of a housing crisis, has also preserved housing affordable to those families,” said Sarah Desmond, Executive Director, Housing Conservation Coordinators, Inc.

“The Urban Justice Center’s Community Development Project, Mental Health Project, Safety Net Project and Veteran Advocacy Project have been able to expand the housing representation they provide to tenants due to this mayoral funding. The impact of being represented by an attorney in housing court is tremendous both in the lives of the families who the Urban Justice Center’s projects have protected from eviction and in the fabric of the communities in which they live,” said Mary Beth Anderson, Director of the Urban Justice Center’s Mental Health Project.

“Long-term, low income tenants in many neighborhoods where rents are rapidly escalating are facing powerful pressures to move, including harassment by landlords, through frivolous eviction proceedings brought by landlords, refusal to renew leases, improper rent over charges, and denial of repairs. A skilled advocate is essential to assert and achieve rights under city, state and federal law,” said Hillary Exter, Coordination of the Anti-Harassment Tenant Protection Program at the Urban Justice Center, which is the lead agency of LEAP, a consortium of 13 legal services providers working through a city-funded grant

“The findings of the Office of Civil Justice’s first annual survey demonstrate that funding legal services for low-income tenants facing eviction and other housing issues is having a profound impact on access to justice in Housing Court,” said Beth Goldman, President and Attorney-in-Charge of the New York Legal Assistance Group. “We applaud the unprecedented commitment to this cause by the de Blasio administration and the City Council and look forward to continuing to work with the Human Resources Administration and the Office of Civil Justice to demonstrate even more conclusively the benefits of civil legal services to the City - and to poor and near-poor New Yorkers who risk losing their housing without the benefit of legal representation.”

“NMIC is proud to partner with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York City Human Resources Administration to provide eviction prevention services to low income tenants who are struggling with gentrification. These services help protect NYC's vibrant multicultural communities by ensuring residents have access to the legal services they need to maintain their homes,” said NMIC Executive Director Maria Lizardo.

"As public defenders in the Bronx, we have seen first-hand the positive impact of being able to expand our representation in housing, an area where the collateral consequences of any involvement in the criminal justice system can be devastating,” said Runa Rajagopal, Director of the Civil Action Practice at The Bronx Defenders. "This is an important milestone toward the critical goal of guaranteeing legal representation for low-income New Yorkers who are most vulnerable to harassment, displacement and wrongful evictions by private, as well as public, landlords. We must now seize the opportunity to capitalize on this progress and address the root of the problem by establishing, once and for all, a right to counsel in housing court."

“I knew that when the Mayor implemented more tenant protections that it would help stop these no good landlords in their tracks. I am so glad to hear about these great results…let’s keep up the good work,” said Cynthia Simpson, President of the Marcy Houses Tenants Green Committee.

“I want to thank the Mayor for not only hearing but for addressing tenant harassment issues. The increase from 1 percent to 27 percent shows that when government gets it rights positive results will follow,” said Lenora Keith, President of Tompkins Houses Resident Association.

"Legal representation is a lifeline for so many low-income New Yorkers. It helps level the playing field for immigrants, seniors and other tenants to have confidence that their cases are treated fairly. We welcome increased attention and resources for legal services which will result from this report,” said Amy T. Paul, Executive Director of Woodside on the Move Inc.