Philly City Council explores expanding counsel for tenants
06/29/2017, Legislation, Housing - Evictions
UPDATE: City Council allocates $500,000, doubling current investment
In response to the hearings, the Philadelphia City Council has allocated $500,000 to increase representation for tenants facing eviction. Councilmember Helen Gym, who sponsored the legislation establishing the hearings, stated that "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." Read the City Council's announcement.
UPDATE: first hearing held on March 20, 2017
The City Council had its first hearing (video link) related to the resolution on March 20, 2017. The hearing has been covered by PlanPhilly (both before and after the hearing), the Philadelphia Tribune, Huffington Post, GeneroCity, philly.com (in a commentary by NCCRC participants Cathy Carr and Joe Sullivan that was co-authored by Deborah Gross, the Philadelphia Bar Chancellor), NBC 10, CBS 3, Telemundo 62, Al Dia, and NewsWorks (op-ed).
The Philadelphia City Council has passed a resolution authorizing the Committee on Licenses and Inspections and the Committee on Public Health and Human Services to "conduct hearings concerning the impact of eviction and substandard housing on the health and wellbeing of low-income renters, and examin[e] solutions that would improve the safety and stability of rental housing, including the right to counsel."
The resolution notes the crisis of affordable housing for low-income renters, the lack of landlord compliance with certain safety requirements, and the dire consequences of eviction (including "loss of employment, missed schooling, and damage to physical and mental health", as well as stigma, damage to credit, and blacklisting). It then makes strong statements in support of a right to counsel:
A substantial number of people dealing with substandard housing or facing eviction proceedings live in poverty, cannot afford or obtain counsel to represent them, and must appear in court unrepresented despite the fact that eviction proceedings are technical legal proceedings in which rules of evidence and procedural and substantive law apply;
Unrepresented parties operate on an uneven playing field, with 80-85% of landlords having legal representation in Philadelphia landlord-tenant court while only 5-8% of tenants have such representation;
Representation in eviction proceedings keeps people in their homes and communities and out of the homeless shelters and provides fundamental fairness and due process for those who face imminent loss of housing by negotiating time and payment agreements, helping navigate court processes, addressing substandard housing conditions, and defending against retaliation;
Reviews of Philadelphia Municipal Court data has shown that tenants with attorneys are far less likely to be evicted and more likely to assert their right to safe and habitable housing that meets code requirements
Investing in a right to counsel for tenants is cost-effective, is one of the best measures to prevent evictions, housing instability, and homelessness, and is an essential tool in combating poverty and improving the health and wellbeing of the city’s residents and communities.