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Low-income tenants facing eviction could be guaranteed legal aid under new bill

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The proposal, heard in the City Council this week, has gotten major backers from both politicos and advocacy groups

A newly proposed bill could provide assistance to low-income tenants facing eviction or foreclosure. The NYC City Council held a hearing on Monday to discuss Intro 214-A, which would require the city’s Office of Civil Justice to provide legal counsel for low-income tenants.

Roughly 80 percent of tenants facing eviction are left to fend for themselves in housing court due to a lack of resources and/or lack of understanding of available resources. But according to City Council member Mark Levine, one of the bill's biggest backers (along with Council Member Vanessa Gibson), 100 percent of landlords have legal representation, giving them a huge advantage over tenants from the start. And, per Levine's office, "eviction is the single most common reason that families in New York City end up in shelters, and over the past decade, the share of families citing eviction as the cause for their homelessness has increased dramatically."

Supporters of the bill point to studies that illustrate the impact of having legal representation, reducing a tenant's chances of eviction by as much as 77 percent. If passed, this piece of legislation has the potential to help thousands of tenants annually who may otherwise end up losing their homes.

Here are some of the key takeaways from the proposed bill, with a h/t to the New York Times:

  • Tenants making 200 percent of the federal poverty line would qualify for the right to counsel. For an individual, the income cutoff would be $23,540 and for a family of four, $48,500 would be the cutoff.
  • Rent-stabilized units will remain available to those that need them instead of giving way to market-rate apartments as less tenants lose their affordable housing due to eviction.
  • Tenants who may not be familiar with the city’s rent stabilization law will have aid in ensuring that their rights are upheld.

Mayor de Blasio and the City Council have already taken steps to increase funding for legal services for the low earning. While spending has increased from $6 million in 2014 to a projected $60 million by 2017, though many believe that much more needs to be done. "Mayor de Blasio and the City Council have taken the critical step of increasing funding for tenant legal representation more than tenfold—and evictions have dropped 24 percent as a result. But nearly three-quarters of low-income tenants are still left to fend for themselves," said Levine.

Mayor de Blasio has not yet taken a stance on the bill, but it has the support City Comptroller Scott Stringer, several borough presidents, the NYC Bar Association, and many more officials, unions, and advocacy groups.