New ACLU and National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel Report Finds Right to Counsel Measures Help Prevent Evictions

May 11, 2022 1:15 pm

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NEW YORK — The American Civil Liberties Union and National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel (NCCRC) released a new research brief today assessing the impacts and harms of eviction — particularly on communities of color and women — and how right to counsel measures can help prevent evictions.

Renters facing eviction are almost always unrepresented in court proceedings. Nationwide, only 3 percent of renters are represented, compared to 81 percent of landlords on average. The brief, “No Eviction Without Representation: Evictions’ Disproportionate Harms and the Promise of Right to Counsel,” looks at how legal representation for renters facing eviction is a critically important intervention tool to keep people in their homes and prevent the long-term harms of eviction, including homelessness.

Using research from pilot right to counsel projects, representation and cost-benefit studies, and existing right to counsel programs, the research brief examines how providing legal representation to renters can significantly mitigate a mass eviction crisis. Based on the current available evidence, it is clear that providing a right to counsel allows for a more just system, resulting in fewer evictions.

A summary of key findings from the report include:

  • The harms of eviction are experienced disproportionately by Black people and women:
    • Black individuals account for nearly 33 percent of all eviction filing defendants, despite comprising roughly 20 percent of all adult renters, and Black women face eviction filings at nearly twice the rate of white women.
  • Right to counsel initiatives and other access-to-counsel programs in eviction proceedings are becoming increasingly popular in cities and states across the country — 15 cities and three states to date have enacted a right to counsel for those facing eviction.
  • Preliminary data from right to counsel initiatives points to overwhelmingly positive results:
    • For example, in Cleveland, the right to counsel program has helped 93 percent of represented renters avoid an eviction.
  • The research indicates that providing representation balances out significant disparities in access to legal resources between landlords and tenants and is cost-effective for the government:
    • A study on potential cost savings of enacting a right to counsel program in Massachusetts found such a program would result in an overall estimated cost savings of $36.73 million annually.

“All people — regardless of background or circumstance — deserve access to safe and stable housing,” said Sandra Park, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “Guaranteeing a right to counsel can play a vital role in addressing the devastating harms of evictions, helps protect tenants’ due process rights, and invests in supporting families and communities.”

“Housing is a basic human need that demands strong protection,” said John Pollock, coordinator of the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel. “For decades we’ve known tenant representation dramatically improves outcomes in eviction cases, and a right to counsel helps promote and protect long-term housing stability for all tenants.”

The ACLU and NCCRC recommend that governments at all levels take action to ensure those facing eviction are provided with legal representation. The brief concludes by making the following recommendations for federal, state and local governments:

The federal government should:

  • Fully fund efforts to establish and implement the right to counsel for renters at the state and local level; and
  • Increase awareness among localities and states about the portions of Emergency Rental Assistance Program and Fiscal Recovery Fund dollars available for legal services, and work to make these funding sources permanent.

Local and state governments should:

  • Enact and implement a right to counsel for renters facing eviction in their jurisdictions; and
  • Support research and evaluation that assesses longer-term outcomes and identify best practices of right to counsel efforts.

The full brief is online, here.

A blog about the brief can be found here.

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