Activists: Expand Law That Led to Drop in Evictions

Marta Martinez in her home in Queens. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

In 2017, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a law that offers free legal representation to low-income tenants being evicted by their landlords, with the goal of helping them keep their homes.

More than a year after the implementation of the initiative promoted by Council members Mark Levine and Vanessa Gibson, which started with an initial $15 million budget, 84 percent of 22,000 participants in the program have won their court cases.

According to a report by Community Service Society, in 20 of the city’s more than 200 zip codes in which the initiative has been implemented “evictions declined more than five times faster” compared to other areas.

(…) Although the “Right to Counsel” law will be expanded to all postal codes by 2022, covering some 784,000 low-income homes, the report argues that extending it to other segments of the population would have a significant impact. A total of 527,000 moderate-income homes, representing 25 percent of New York homes, “also experience housing instability and are thus also vulnerable to evictions,” says the report.

(…) “The data shows without a doubt that the program is working because tenants are staying in their homes; it doesn’t matter if some reports are talking of a 84 percent or 55 percent rate of success. What that shows is that we are winning in the courts,” said Carmen de la Rivera, activist of the Bronx tenant organization CASA.

The tenants’ organizer suggested bringing forward the date in which the whole city will be covered, which would prevent thousands of families from ending up on the street. “By 2022 many tenants will have lost their homes, especially in the South Bronx so it would be good to include the rezoning areas right now.”

(…) Marta Martínez, who has lived in her Queens apartment for 17 years and was assigned a free attorney by the organization Make the Road New York, says that without the legal help she would have been evicted.

“My husband got sick and then I got cancer, so I was three months behind on my rent, and my landlord started to take me to court to kick me out and raise the rent. Had it not been for the lawyers, I would have had to go back to my country or to a shelter,” said the Uruguayan woman, 54, who qualified for the assistance.


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