Principles for a RTC in Massachusetts
As a result of the continued leadership of Senator DiDomenico and Representative Rogers, Tyler, and Day, three right to counsel bills are before the Massachusetts Legislature for consideration in the 2019-20 session.
These bills were filed over the previous two legislative sessions, New York City and others have passed similar legislation.
Over the past three months, members of the Massachusetts Right to Counsel Coalition have reviewed these bills and considered lessons learned by those at the implementation phase. , and have will guided by the following principles in developing a proposal to advance a legislative campaign for justice in evictions.
Six years ago, San Francisco passed a city ordinance declaring its intention to be a Right to Civil Counsel City. The City also funded a pilot project which found that representation would save over $1 million a year.
In June 2018, by a vote of 56% to 44%, voters in San Francisco passed a ballot initiative providing a right to counsel in eviction cases regardless of income within 30 days after a tenant receives an eviction notice or a lawsuit seeking eviciton. It also required the San Francisco Office of Housing and Community Development to implement the right to counsel program.
The Mayor has set aside $1.9 million for FY2018-19 and $3.9 million for FY2019-20, with full implementation planned by July 2019. 11 organizations will provide the services.
In August 2018, the Los Angeles City Council’s Housing Committee recommended that the city explore a right to counsel ordinance to guarantee tenants access to the information and representation they need when faced with landlord harassment, eviction or other issues. A motion has been filed in LA that would appropriate $10 million for 10,000 tenants as Phase I of a right to counsel.
In 2017, the Sisters of Charity Foundation funded a fellowship for an attorney with Legal Aid Services of Cleveland to explore a right to counsel in housing court. This led to members of the Cleveland City Council and courts meeting with counterparts in D.C. and NYC to learn more about right to counsel initiatives. The City Council President announced the intent to implement Phase 1 of right to counsel in 2019.
In August 2018, Newark Mayor Baraka announced a plan to introduce a bill to provide a right to counsel for tenants in evictions. In December 2018, the Newark City Council passed a Right to Counsel Ordinance.More information.
In 2019, a bill was filed in the state legislature to guarantee a right to counsel statewide for tenants making less than $50,000 who are in an eviction proceeding.
In 2015, Washington DC began a Housing Right to Counsel Project. The project is focused on subsidized housing. Tenants’ eligibility is restricted to 200% of federal poverty guidelines.
Cases are randomly selected. Approximately 1 out of 4 subsidized tenants facing eviction receives a letter from the court explaining the project and the guarantee of representation. Representation is provided by legal aid and 14 law firms.
Data from 2015-17 shows that tenants with representation had fewer defaults, fewer judgments for possession, fewer court ordered evictions, and fewer breached agreements.
The project was originally funded at $310,000. In 2017, Expanding Access to Justice Act increased funding to approximately $4.5 million.
In June 2017, Philadelphia City Council allocated $500,000 (later increased to $850,000) in new funding for legal and supportive services for tenants facing eviction.
“By taking this step to expand right to counsel for people facing eviction, our city is joining the forefront of a national movement to protect and support low-income people fighting for their rights,” said Councilor Helen Gym.