Solutions Accelerator Sprint


Advancing Housing Justice:
Right to Counsel for Tenants

A new learning opportunity to explore how a right to counsel for tenants promotes housing stability and how cities, counties, and states around the country can advance and implement right to counsel programs and policies.

 

KEY DATES & INFORMATION
Applications due: August 24, 2022 (EOD)
Jurisdictions Selected: 13 (max)
Sprint Kickoff: September 13, 2022
Duration: September 13 – November 3, 2022

Results for America invites place-based teams to apply for this 8-9 session virtual Sprint led by National Coalition for Civil Right to Counsel (NCCRC), PolicyLink, Heartland Center for Jobs and Freedom, and Red Bridge Strategies. Selected collaborative government and local practitioner teams committed to advancing the right to counsel for tenants facing eviction in their communities will receive expert guidance on how to advance towards enactment, design, implementation, and sustainability of a tenant right to counsel policy and programs. In addition to intra and inter jurisdictional learning from experts with substantial experience, and networking with like jurisdictions, this is an opportunity to build a coalition of diverse individuals, organizations, and sectors in your jurisdiction that are all working in partnership to push a right to counsel for tenants forward.

Read on to learn more about the need for tenant right to counsel policies and programs, and more Sprint logistics and requirements.

THE CHALLENGE:

For many types of civil court cases, the potential consequences of losing are dramatic: loss of one’s home, children, livelihood, education, health, safety, liberty, or even life.  Evictions potentially impact all of these interests for millions annually.  Before COVID-19, on average, there were over 3.6 million evictions annually, demonstrating a long standing housing crisis in the U.S. Even now, over two years after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, over a million tenants have faced the harsh aftermath of an eviction filing according to the Eviction Lab’s Eviction Tracking System which has tracked eviction filings since the start of the pandemic across 6 states and 31 cities across the nation.

Evictions do not just threaten a person’s immediate housing and personal property. Evictions also negatively impact tenant mental and physical health, employment stability, and increase the risk of homelessness, which can in turn increase interactions with the criminal justice system and child welfare system.  Evictions are particularly devastating for children, impacting their development, and educational attainment. And during COVID-19, evicted tenants have faced increased exposure to the virus, which can be life threatening for unstably housed populations.

The power dynamic between landlords and tenants is imbalanced from the beginning of the rental relationship. Landlords write the leases; landlords say yes or no to a potential renter; and landlords determine whether and when to employ the eviction process. The mere filing of an eviction action against a tenant, regardless of the outcome (including if the tenant won), can remain on a tenant’s record for years and impact future housing opportunities.

Worst of all – evictions, and their residual consequences, are not experienced equally as they threaten, disrupt, and harm communities of color disproportionately across the country. A long, continuing, and unaddressed history of racism in U.S. housing policy and practice, has led to a reality where Black women renters face eviction twice as often as white tenants. And getting legal assistance for an eviction, particularly for low-income tenants, is often a game of chance. It depends heavily on where a tenant resides, whether there is a local legal aid provider and whether the provider has capacity, is taking on new cases at the time, or even handles evictions. When it comes to legal representation, on average only 3% of tenants facing eviction are represented, compared to 81% of landlords.

THE SOLUTION:
Advancing Housing Justice through a Right to Counsel for Tenants

A right to counsel for tenants is a guarantee in the law that eligible tenants will be provided with an attorney when they face an eviction, or other eligible equivalent proceeding. 15 cities and 3 states have enacted a right to counsel for tenants since 2017 (most of them, during COVID-19). A right to counsel policy is a critical intervention in the eviction crisis because it is demonstrably effective and cost-efficient for jurisdictions. It is also a compliment to other tenant protections and broader housing justice reforms.

Effectiveness of Tenant Representation in General: 

  • Open Justice Oklahoma found that tenant legal representation increased the odds of a person remaining in their home by 75% in Tulsa County.
  • A study out of Hennepin County, Minnesota found that fully represented tenants:
    • Won or settled their cases 96% of the time (while those with no legal services won or settled only 62% of the time);
    • Were almost twice as likely to remain in their homes;
    • Had twice the time to move, when they agreed to do so;
    • Were much less likely to have an eviction record: 80% of those with a lawyer left court without an eviction record compared to 6% of those unrepresented; and
    • Were four times less likely to use homeless shelters.
  • A California study found that fully represented tenants stayed in their units three times as often as those receiving limited or no legal assistance. When tenants did have to move, fully represented tenants were given twice as long to do so. And an evaluation of a robust right to counsel pilot program in California, found that a year after services were provided, 71% tenants that were served by the pilot program were living in a new rental unit compared to only 43% of the comparison group.
  • A Colorado study found that when tenants had representation, they usually prevailed and that represented tenants remained in their homes 70-100% of the time, compared to 32% of unrepresented tenants.

Effectiveness of Right to Counsel for Tenants programs: *NOTE: many jurisdictions are still implementing their right to counsel programs, but data is now available from several jurisdictions that have implemented RTC long enough to generate findings.

  • Studies from Stout, a financial analysis company, have found that cities and states will save far more than they spend to provide such a right, due to avoided costs around shelters, health care, foster care, and other social safety net services.
  • In New York City, the latest evaluation of the right to counsel program showed that 84% of represented tenants were able to remain in their homes and that 71% of tenants who appeared in Housing Court had full representation by attorneys which was an “exponential increase over the 1 percent of tenants who had lawyers in 2013.”
  • The latest evaluation of Cleveland’s right to counsel showed that 93% of RTC clients avoided an eviction judgment or an involuntary move, and 92% of clients who wanted additional time to move and 97% who sought monetary relief, were able to get it. Particularly critical at this time, 83% of RTC clients who desired rental assistance were able to obtain it. Critically, of the 21% of RTC clients unaware of rental assistance at the time they contacted Legal Aid, approximately 98% wanted rental assistance and Legal Aid helped 81% of those clients obtain it.
  • In San Francisco, the current data shows that 59% of fully represented tenants are able to remain in their homes. And of the 30% who did not remain in their unit, 70% received a favorable settlement, such as a move-out with sufficient time and money (i.e., a combination of rent waiver and cash payment to move out).

For more evidence, look at NCCRC’s comprehensive bibliography which tracks the studies that have analyzed the impact of providing counsel for tenants in eviction cases.

Cost Savings and Economic Benefits for Jurisdictions

  • In a recent evaluation of Cleveland’s right to counsel program, the net savings, from avoiding social safety net costs, for Cleveland and Cuyahoga County were estimated to be approximately $1.8-1-9 million.
  • The estimated economic benefits of providing a right to counsel in Detroit, was estimated to be 352% greater than the cost of the right to counsel.
  • For every dollar invested in a right to counsel in Baltimore City, the estimated cost savings (or value of providing the services) were at least $6.24 for Baltimore City and Maryland overall.

Community organizers, tenants, legal practitioners, and civil servants across the country have generated a thriving movement for a right to counsel for tenants after recognizing the interests at stake, effectiveness of representation, power imbalance between landlords and tenants, and the cost savings. In 2017, NYC tenants and organizers turned it into the first city with an enacted right to counsel for tenants. As of July 2022, 14 additional cities and 3 states have enacted a right to counsel for tenants.

Additionally, support for tenants right to counsel is gaining — Data for Progress and The Appeal have conducted polling showing that support for a right to counsel for tenants facing eviction has grown to the point that “81 percent of voters—including 87 percent of Democrats, 73 percent of independents, and 70 percent of Republicans—support[ing] a right to counsel for evictions proceedings.”  And judges in New York City testified that the right to counsel law has had a positive impact on court efficiency and fairness.  Judge Jean Schneider, the citywide supervising judge of the New York City Housing Court, testified that “our court is improving by leaps and bounds.”

The right to counsel for tenants can:

  • empower tenants to protect their basic rights,
  • help build tenant power to organize around and achieve greater housing justice reforms,
  • encourage greater thoroughness and fairness in court
  • facilitate better outcomes for all litigants,
  • save jurisdictions more money than it costs, and
  • serve as a best practice in communities.

When will your community join the many places with a right to counsel for tenants?

 

AHJ: RTC Sprint Overview

As part of its Solutions work, Results for America is partnering with National Coalition for Civil Right to Counsel (NCCRC), PolicyLink, Heartland Center for Jobs and Freedom, and Red Bridge Strategies to offer a cohort of cities, counties, states, and community partners to join a learning opportunity where they will:

  • Receive expert guidance on how to advance towards enactment, design, implementation, and sustainability of tenant right to counsel policy and programs,
  • Have a space for intra and inter jurisdictional learning and networking, and
  • Build a coalition of diverse organizations and sectors all working in partnership to create right to counsel access.

Participating teams will work through a 8-9 session online learning curriculum with a cohort of peers from other jurisdictions will have:

  • Learned the meaning and value of eviction right to counsel
  • Learned to comprehend the nuances, and complexities of establishing and implementing an eviction right to counsel
  • Understood the local eviction context, the necessity of approaching eviction right to counsel with a race, gender, disability, health and other equity lenses
  • Recognized the importance of centering community organizers and tenants, and their expert knowledge, in right to counsel campaigns
  • Identified the necessary concrete next steps to move towards legislation and/or implementation and begun taking those steps, including:
    • Identified potential opponents and the arguments they will make, and begun to formulate responses to those arguments
    • Developed understanding of pressure partners/strategy who can make effective political arguments for media/public pressure that will influence key decision makers
  •  Built a stronger relationship with coalition partners.

SPRINT DETAILS

  • When: Weekly 1 – 1.5 hour sessions from September 13 – November 3, 2022
  • Where: Virtually via webinars and/or cohort discussions delivered via Zoom

WHO SHOULD APPLY

Place-based teams are invited to apply. City, County, and State governments are strongly encouraged to bring together a team of key, diverse stakeholders to maximize the opportunity and establish a foundation for long-term success.

Participating members of the team could include, but are not limited to, leaders and staff from:

  • Strongly recommended:
    • Closely affiliated legal aid providers
    • Community-based organizations / Tenant organizing groups
    • Representatives from Council / Mayor’s office, Legal Department, and/or Housing Department
  • Recommended/ suggested:
    • Closely affiliated local non-profit
    • Housing department
    • Department of Community Engagement
    • Providers of post-eviction services, such as homeless shelters
    • Emergency rental assistance provider (if applicable at the city level)
    • Housing court judges / staff
    • Evaluator (i.e. a researcher/ university)
    • Where there is no city-level person, a statewide or county-level equivalent could be considered.

ADDITIONAL PARTICIPATION REQUIREMENTS AND ELIGIBILITIES

  • Has demonstrated interest and/or commitment to developing an eviction right to counsel program in their community. Examples of this include:
    1. Working to or having passed a resolution or city ordinance
    2. Working to create or has an existing RTC coalition that includes government officials i.e. mayor’s Office or court participation
    3. Having received Prior funding for legal representation for tenants
    4. Has conducted research or  reached out to an RTC expert partner for guidance
  • Ability of majority of the team (3-5 members) to fully engage in the sprint i.e. attend all sessions, engage in group discussions, complete assignments
  • Committed to and achieving the goals of the sprint
  • Committed to race, gender, and health equity

ABOUT THE SPRINT FACILITATORS

Weekly sessions will be designed and led by:

  • National Coalition for Civil Right to Counsel (NCCRC): The National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel (NCCRC), organized and funded in part by the Public Justice Center (PJC), encourages, supports, and coordinates advocacy to establish and implement a right to counsel for low-income people in civil cases that involve basic human needs, including housing. The right to counsel for tenants facing eviction is a significant focus area, and we have supported advocates in most of the 18 jurisdictions that established and are now implementing such a right. We also assist nascent efforts around the country. Learn more at civilrighttocounsel.org.
  • PolicyLink: PolicyLink is a national research and action institute advancing racial and economic equity by Lifting Up What Works®. PolicyLink seeks to deliver and scale results in the following arenas: (1 )Equitable Economy: Promote economic inclusion and ownership to eliminate poverty, shrink inequality, and increase mobility. (2) Healthy Communities of Opportunity: Create and maintain opportunity-rich communities in all neighborhoods and all regions of the country through strong networks and social capital, equitable development, and infrastructure investments that enable low-income people and communities of color to thrive. (3) Just Society: Build power and expand agency to ensure that all systems and institutions are just, free of racial bias, and lead to a vibrant democracy where all, especially the most vulnerable, can participate and prosper.
  • Heartland Center for Jobs and Freedom: Their vision is that working people of all races and backgrounds will have the power and influence to ensure that everyone who works can live a full life free of abuse, exploitation, and poverty. It is the mission of the Heartland Center for Jobs and Freedom to create opportunities for workers to learn and exercise their rights, realize their collective power, and develop the leadership skills necessary to advocate for a racially and economically just society.
  • Red Bridge Strategies: Red Bridge Strategies is a political consulting firm specializing in leftist ballot measures, public persuasion campaigns, and democratic socialist candidates. They focus on upstart, grassroots campaigns that challenge the status quo by taking on big money with people power and disciplined strategy. They believe in the enrolling power of electoral politics as an effective way to demand a better future. Their mission is to lead leftist campaigns from vision to victory using proven strategies of persuasion, insurgent messaging and data-driven field programs.

Questions?
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