Who’s Supporting a Right to Counsel in Housing Court?

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Wally Gobetz

Back in 2008, a slim majority of 29 New York City Councilmembers voted to extend term limits after a remarkably fast debate. Today, a bill to require that lawyers be provided to low-income people facing the loss of their homes in housing court has a far larger number of 42 Councilmembers behind it and yet, 33 months after being introduced, has yet to come up for a roll call.

If the math seems a little funny, the clergy leaders and community groups who plan to rally in support of the law Thursday evening aren’t laughing. “Every day without a right to counsel is a day with unjust evictions,” the coalition sponsoring this evening’s event said in a statement. “Faith leaders are calling on the mayor to pass Right to Counsel, as moral, civil and human rights issue.”

City Limits reported in its 2015 series on housing court on the unequal footing for tenants, operating largely without, lawyers, facing landlords in housing court.

The de Blasio administration has targeted the problem from its first days, increasing the funding for anti-eviction legal services ten-fold. According to testimony in September by Steven Banks, the Human Resources Administration commissioner, the share of tenants enjoying legal representation in housing court has increased from 1 percent in 2013 to 27 percent, and the number of evictions overseen by city marshall is down by a quarter, since de Blasio took power.

In that September hearing, the de Blasio administration did not take a position on Intro. 214-a, the right to counsel bill, but Banks did indicate that the city should see what impact the de Blasio programs have before committing to new spending. And there has been debate over the pricetag of a right to counsel: The Independent Budget Office estimated in 2014 that the move could cost the city $100 million to $200 million annually, but a more recent estimate commissioned by the Bar Association found instead a $300 million net benefit to the city.

As of this morning, here are the co-sponsors of the measure:

Mark Levine
Vanessa L. Gibson
Inez D. Barron
Margaret S. Chin
Inez E. Dickens
Mathieu Eugene
Julissa Ferreras-Copeland
Corey D. Johnson
Brad S. Lander
Rosie Mendez
Ruben Wills
Mark Treyger
Ydanis A. Rodriguez
Ben Kallos
Karen Koslowitz
Andy L. King
Helen K. Rosenthal
Robert E. Cornegy Jr.
Andrew Cohen
Antonio Reynoso
Ritchie J. Torres
Stephen T. Levin
Annabel Palma
Donovan J. Richards
Rafael L. Espinal Jr. I.
Daneek Miller
Darlene Mealy
Vincent J. Gentile
Alan N. Maisel
Peter A. Koo
James G. Van Bramer
Laurie A. Cumbo
Jumaane D. Williams
Costa G. Constantinides
Deborah L. Rose
Carlos Menchaca
Daniel Dromm
Elizabeth S. Crowley
Rory I. Lancman
Rafael Salamanca Jr.
Fernando Cabrera
Barry S. Grodenchik

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