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New York City's First-in-Nation Right-to-Counsel Program Expanded Citywide Ahead of Schedule

November 17, 2021

Amid the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, the de Blasio Administration continued expanding the historic Right to Counsel program citywide, further increasing representation rate and providing 100,000 New Yorkers with legal services in FY21

Overwhelming majority of tenants who have City-funded legal representation are successful in their legal proceedings, 84percent of households represented by a Right to Counsel lawyer able to remain in their homes.

NEW YORK—The de Blasio Administration today released its annual Right to Counsel Progress Report for Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21), which found that through the citywide implementation of the Right to Counsel program in 2020, 100 percent of tenants with calendared eviction cases had access to legal services, and 71 percent of tenants who appeared in Housing Court had full representation by attorneys – nearly double the pre-pandemic rate of 38 percent, and an exponential increase over the 1 percent of tenants who had lawyers in 2013. To date since 2014, the City has provided legal services to more than half-a-million New Yorkers, including approximately 100,000 New Yorkers who utilized this program during the COVID-19 pandemic period in FY21. To educate New Yorkers about housing instability, raise awareness of right to counsel, and promote the availability of these anti-eviction resources for tenants, which have achieved proven positive results, the City is also launching a public awareness campaign.

“Building the fairest big city in the country means making sure all tenants can continue to call New York City home,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “This game-changing program has yielded staggering results – protecting families from harassment and providing legal services to all tenants facing eviction, cementing its status as a national model for increasing housing stability and preventing homelessness.”

“In New York City, through our innovative Right to Counsel program, we have modeled for the nation what it means to protect tenants – and we’re proud of our results, driving down evictions, providing more New Yorkers with lawyers in housing court, and proving that preventing homelessness is possible,” said Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Melanie Hartzog.  “Now more than ever, we need cities across the country to develop creative solutions to our most pressing challenges – and New York City will continue to lead the way, bringing new vital tools and programs like these to the table to level the playing field for all.”

“The Right to Counsel initiative is a proven and successful program that has helped thousands of New Yorkers avoid eviction and keep their homes, which is more important than ever amid the current economic challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks. “With evictions on the rise throughout the country pre-pandemic and the looming expiration of eviction moratoriums on the horizon in numerous cities and states, our Right to Counsel program provides jurisdictions across the country with a replicable framework that can achieve positive outcomes for tenants experiencing housing instability – all while promoting the preservation of affordable housing and neighborhood stability.”

Increased investments expand proven-successful anti-eviction program citywide – ahead of schedule

Established in 2017, New York City’s Right to Counsel initiative provides free legal services, including representation, to tenants facing eviction in housing court. The data shows that the overwhelming majority of tenants who have City-funded legal representation are successful in their legal proceedings, with 84 percent of households represented by a Right to Counsel lawyer able to remain in their homes.

Through this initiative, the Administration’s has increased investments in tenant legal services more than 25-fold, from $6 million in 2013 to $166 million today, and expanded the program citywide, making eviction legal defense services available to all tenants in New York City facing eviction in housing court, regardless of ZIP Code. This citywide expansion was achieved ahead of the planned 2022 expansion schedule – and during an historic emergency period in New York City.

“The tremendous progress we’ve made implementing the Right to Counsel initiative demonstrates this Administration’s commitment to strengthening tenant protections for New Yorkers like never before,” said HRA Administrator Gary Jenkins. “Through creative approaches and new solutions like the RTC program, which has become a model nationwide, we are continuing to build on the progress we’ve made helping vulnerable New Yorkers who are our neighbors, fight unlawful evictions, keep their homes, and avoid homelessness altogether, both before and during the pandemic. As our City works to put the pandemic behind us, this essential resource will continue to protect tenants for years to come, helping ensure New York remains a city that anyone can call home, regardless of their economic status.”

“Since the start of the de Blasio Administration, New York City has been a national leader in increasing access to justice for those in need, establishing DSS-HRA's Office of Civil Justice to implement the groundbreaking Right-to-Counsel program, which made New York City the first in the nation to guarantee legal services to tenants facing eviction,” said Civil Justice Coordinator Jordan Dressler of OCJ. “As New York City emerges from an unprecedented crisis that highlighted longstanding inequities across communities, OCJ is proud to have expanded this vital resource across all five boroughs and made the right to counsel a reality for all New York City tenants facing eviction in court, thanks to the heroic efforts of dedicated staff and frontline lawyers.  Our latest progress report underscores RTC's game-changing impact – with evictions down, legal representation up, and New York City a fairer place for all.”

New campaign will raise awareness and connect more New Yorkers to anti-eviction legal services

To increase awareness of the Right to Counsel program and its expansion citywide, and to educate New Yorkers experiencing housing instability about the range of resources available to them via the Tenant Helpline, the City is implementing a large-scale Right to Counsel advertising campaign. The campaign will focus on messaging that lets New Yorkers facing eviction know that they are not alone and they can learn more about Right to Counsel by calling 311. Developed collaboratively by the Public Engagement Unit (PEU), the Mayor’s Office to Protect Tenants (MOPT), and DSS-HRA’s Office of Civil Justice (OCJ), the campaign will be available in 15 languages and will ​be comprised of targeted advertisements in multiple languages in both print and digital media, including Community and Ethnic Media publications across the five boroughs.
In addition, this Thursday, November 18, OCJ will also hold its annual public hearing on the City’s progress protecting tenants through the program.

"The Mayor’s Office to Protect Tenants is proud to support such a markedly successful program as Right to Counsel, and it’s important to us that as many New Yorkers as possible know the program exists and how to access it. I believe this public education campaign will successfully reach the New Yorkers who need the City’s support in fighting eviction," said Mayor’s Office to Protect Tenants Acting Director Ricardo Martinez Campos. "Right to Counsel keeps people in their homes. We are confident that this landmark program will continue to protect New York City tenants even if the State’s eviction moratorium expires in January. I thank all the agencies involved in this effort, and our partners on the ground for making sure the message gets to all New Yorkers.” 

Permanent Tenant Helpline within the Mayor’s Public Engagement Unit to help New Yorkers navigate available resources

The new Right to Counsel advertising campaign will drive tenants in need of assistance to the Tenant Helpline, which was created in 2020 by the Mayor’s Office to Protect Tenants and the Public Engagement Unit, with the aim of making sure New Yorkers had access to all the information that could help them stay stably housed. New Yorkers who call 311 and ask for “Right to Counsel” will be directed to the Tenant Helpline, staffed by PEU Housing Specialists who identify a caller’s needs, connect them to a wide array of resources (including OCJ’s legal services and our community partners), and provide hands-on case management support for complex cases. The Tenant Helpline will now become a permanent team within PEU. 

The Tenant Helpline is an addition to the City’s array of tools to help prevent evictions and tenant harassment, and it complements PEU’s proactive outreach to tenants in housing court and in rent regulated apartments in fast-changing neighborhoods. PEU conducts proactive outreach through canvassing, phone, and text campaigns to provide tenants with information on their rights, assist with securing repairs, and/or make connections to OCJ’s free legal services that can help tenants facing eviction as well as harassment by unscrupulous landlords or other tenant legal needs.  

“I want New Yorkers across all five boroughs to know: You do not have to face eviction alone. You have unprecedented access to tenant support, and the Public Engagement Unit is here for you. Your city is here for you,” said Mayor’s Public Engagement Unit Director Adrienne Lever. "PEU Specialists are comprehensively trained and passionate about providing New Yorkers with the one-on-one support they need to stay in their homes. I am thrilled that the success of our Specialists on the Tenant Helpline has helped it to become a permanent fixture of the City’s tenant support infrastructure, and that our new Right to Counsel campaign will help ensure New Yorker know about this resource and their rights”

New York City continues to lead the way nationwide supporting New Yorkers in need through progressive policies like these. With the Right to Counsel program, New York City was the first jurisdiction in the country to guarantee legal services for tenants facing eviction, which has served as a model for others. Numerous cities and states across the country have since adopted similar programs, based on New York City’s successful approach. For example, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Minneapolis, and several other jurisdictions are following the City’s lead and implementing programs that can help level the playing field for tenants experiencing housing instability.

If you or someone you know in New York City is worried about losing your home, the City is here to help. Don’t hesitate – you can reach the Tenant Helpline by calling 311 and saying “tenant helpline” in your language.

"At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the main concerns for the City Council was helping New Yorkers keep their homes and stay in their communities. The Right to Counsel initiative, a program created by the City Council that provides free legal representation for New Yorkers facing eviction, has been successful and proven to be a critical tool in preventing evictions. The Council will continue to fight to protect tenants and ensure that all the necessary resources are available to help keep our city affordable to all,” said City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.  
 “The passage of the Right to Counsel law was a historic step towards justice in New York City’s housing courts, where for generations the vast majority of tenants faced the threat of eviction without the benefit of legal representation,” said Council Member Mark Levine. “The data included in this report continues to show emphatically that the Right to Counsel program is working above our high expectations to keep New Yorkers in their homes, off the streets, and out of the shelter system. This game-changing program has helped thousands of New Yorkers over the precarious months of this pandemic and will be vital to thousands more as these challenges continue to leave so many families vulnerable to losing their homes.”
“The Legal Aid Society is proud to be a leader in New York’s historic right to counsel program, which has protected housing for tens of thousands of New Yorkers and serves as a nationwide model,” said Adrienne Holder, Attorney-in-Charge at the Legal Aid Society (LAS). “Access to counsel in housing court is not only a requirement of civil rights and due process, but also a key tool to mitigate the worst effects of the pandemic. UATC has served as a buffer that has allowed the New Yorkers most impacted by COVID-19, often people of color, to avoid displacement and the attendant risk of serious illness or death.  With the support of OCJ, we have been fighting harassment, neglect, and illegal lockouts, which all have the life-or-death consequence of displacement during a pandemic.”

“The New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) is proud to partner with the NYC Human Resources Administration’s Office of Civil Justice to achieve the full implementation of the Right to Counsel in Housing Court,” said Beth Goldman, President & Attorney-in-Charge of NYLAG.  “The COVID-19 pandemic has only magnified the importance of this work and clearly demonstrates that tenant legal representation in the incredibly complex pandemic legal environment is critical to preserving housing security for New Yorkers facing eviction. We look forward to continuing the implementation of this groundbreaking program and representing under-resourced New Yorkers facing eviction to preserve their homes and communities.”

“The Right-to-Counsel program is a life-saving program for tens of thousands of families facing eviction in New York City. Now, during the pandemic, this program is more important than ever,” said Raun Rasmussen, Executive Director of Legal Services NYC. “Many thanks are due to the Right to Counsel Coalition for fighting to create this law, to the City for adopting it, and to our advocates for litigating hard every day to make it a reality. The Right-to-Counsel program keeps families safe, housed and on a path to stability, and Legal Services NYC is proud to partner with NYC’s Office of Civil Justice to help to New Yorkers most in need.”

“In the over 50 years of Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A has been representing low-income tenants in housing court, the creation and implementation of the Right To Counsel-Universal Access is one of the most ambitious and impactful initiatives we have ever embarked on with the City of New York and the larger housing advocacy community,” said Jessica A. Rose, Esq, Executive Director at Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A. “It has enabled us to greatly expand our services so that we can better meet the extraordinary need for representation by tenants. Right To Counsel levels the scales of justice more fairly and prevents homelessness and the displacement of the communities Brooklyn A serves. Right to Counsel enabled us to better assist the residents of our city that have always been disadvantaged disproportionately by institutional racism and have been most hard hit by COVID-19.”

"New York City has led the way in showing that a tenants' right to counsel prevents evictions and preserves affordable housing," said Marika Dias, Managing Director of Urban Justice Center's Safety Net Project. "The COVID pandemic has put so many tenants at risk of eviction. As lawyers who represent tenants when they are facing the loss of their home, we are a proud partner of the Office of Civil Justice, and we welcome this critical campaign to ensure that NYC tenants are aware of their right to counsel."

Alice Fontier, Managing Director, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, said “The Right to Counsel is fundamentally changing the landscape of Housing Court, and our communities, for the better. Access to counsel is critical to keeping families in their homes. It gives our clients and their neighborhoods a fighting chance against the tide of disinvestment, unaffordability, and destabilization endemic throughout our City's most underserved communities.”

"Right to Counsel has proven to be a powerful tool for tenants to fight evictions, win repairs, stop harassment and so much more,” said Randy Dillard, CASA Leader and Member of the Right to Counsel NYC Coalition. “We've always said that this right is only as powerful as tenants' ability to claim it.  This paid media campaign is a crucial part of making that a reality.  We applaud the city for taking this step and we urge them to make it a permanent part of RTC implementation in the years ahead." 

“Mobilization for Justice is proud to participate in the groundbreaking Right to Counsel program by providing free legal services to Bronx tenants and preventing hundreds of evictions every year. MFJ appreciates the partnership of HRA’s Office of Civil Justice during the incredibly complicated and challenging roll out of RTC, particularly during the extremely challenging Covid-19 pandemic,” said Tiffany Liston, Executive Director, Mobilization for Justice (MFJ).

“The City is to be applauded for leading the nation in adopting and expanding the right to counsel program and continuing to prioritize access to legal representation for all tenants at risk of eviction, dealing with landlord harassment and unsafe living conditions, or simply in need of advice about their rights,” said Lisa Schreibersdorf, Executive Director of Brooklyn Defender Services. “At a time when the public health and economic impacts of housing instability are clearer than ever the importance of ensuring meaningful, client centered, access to justice cannot be understated. We look forward to continuing to work with the city and our colleagues to support individual clients and families and stabilize the communities we serve by ensuring tenants have meaningful access to justice both inside, and outside, the courthouse.”

“CAMBA/ CAMBA Legal Services congratulates the Office of Civil Justice on the release of its 4th annual Right-to-Counsel/Universal Access progress report, and on their successful implementation of the Right to Counsel for New York City tenants in Housing Court,” said Joanne M. Oplustil, President and CEO, CAMBA/ CAMBA Legal Services. “The critical nature of this work has been made even more profound in the context of the COVID-19/coronavirus pandemic. We are so proud to be a part of this groundbreaking program, and are grateful that all New York City tenants in housing court have the right to the legal services they need to keep them in their homes.”

“Housing Court Answers applauds the city for launching a broad public awareness campaign to alert tenants to their Right to Counsel in eviction cases,” said Jenny Laurie, Executive Director, Housing Court Answers. “We have spoken to thousands of tenants during the pandemic, connecting them to counsel that will prevent their evictions. But we know there are tens of thousands more who are unaware of their rights and might leave their homes on receiving eviction papers. We know that the city’s legal service providers have done an amazing job – working with tenants to prevent evictions and stabilize their housing. We need to get the word out that Right to Counsel works – the city’s media campaign will do just that.”

"The expansion of the Right to Counsel has allowed our team to better meet the critical needs of marginalized Bronx residents who have long faced the devastating consequences of the housing crisis," said Runa Rajagopal, Managing Director of Civil Action Practice at The Bronx Defenders. "With support from the Office of Civil Justice, we are proud to actualize this right and defend our community against evictions and displacement-and ultimately, to keep families housed, and together."


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