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Myth: The Right to Counsel Results in Many Fewer Evictions Reality: The Right to Counsel Has Not Made a Big Difference

In August, 2017, the City adopted the Universal Access to Counsel Law to create the right to counsel in Housing Court for income-eligible tenants. RSA testified then that the number of evictions would not significantly decline without a fundamental change in the City’s rent subsidy programs. RSA took that position because, regardless of whether the tenant in a non-payment case has counsel, the tenant is still, ultimately, required to pay the rent that is due and owing.

At the outset, the new law, which is being phased in over five years, was touted by the Mayor and the City Council as the reason why, in its first year of implementation, the number of evictions had declined. More recently, the Mayor announced, on February 4th, that the number of evictions had declined by 37%.

However, a closer look at the numbers indicates that this supposed decline is not being measured against the number of evictions as of when the right to counsel law was enacted; rather, it is being measured against the number of evictions which occurred in 2013, four years before the right to counsel law was even enacted.

The reality is that despite City Hall’s attempts at public relations, the most recent data released by the City shows that the number of evictions has, essentially, now leveled off. This is despite the City’s ever-increasing spending. The City is now well on its way towards the full implementation of the right to counsel and its $155 million budget. Further, the City now spends approximately $250 million annually on so-called “one shot” deals. And, further, the City has significantly increased funding for the Family Homelessness and Eviction Prevention Supplement Program (FHEPS).

According to the data provided by the Office of Court Administration (OCA) to the City Rent Guidelines Board (RGB), in 2013, there were over 28,000 evictions in the City, and approximately 26,000 in 2014. Since that time, the number did indeed decline to approximately 22,000 in 2015 and 2016, and 21,000 in 2017- again, before the right to counsel law was even enacted.

This leveling off has continued, notwithstanding the Mayor’s statement on February 4th that there were “approximately 18,000 evictions in 2018.” On that same date, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson reported that, in fact, there were 19,970 tenants “evicted by city marshals in 2018, a small drop from 2017.”

What does all of this mean? It means that we were right all along. The City continues to throw money (and more lawyers) at this problem and, despite what the Mayor would like you to believe, right to counsel has not made a significant difference in the number of evictions whatsoever and the homeless numbers continue to increase. 

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