The City Council has funded almost $12 million in initiatives to support and expand legal services in this year’s budget. This is in addition to a consolidation of $7.5 million for legal services under the Human Resources Administration, which represents a $1 million increase.
Anti-eviction legal services will receive $5 million, an unprecedented level of funding. This allocation represents a restoration of $2 million and an enhancement of $3 million by the City Council. The program provides legal assistance to low-and moderate-income families and Single Room Occupancy housing tenants faced with illegal evictions from their homes. Providers of this service include: Legal Services NYC, the Goddard Riverside Community Center, Brooklyn Legal Services, the Legal Aid Society, and MFY Legal Services. Council Member Levine was the lead sponsor of this initiative.
Yesterday’s release of the FY2015 City Council Adopted Expense Budget also explicitly identified supporting and expanding legal services for New Yorkers, including those facing eviction, as one of its major priorities.
Earlier this month, Council Member Mark Levine joined Council Members Vanessa Gibson and Rosie Mendez, along with over one hundred members of the Coalition for Justice in Housing Court to rally for the right to counsel. Levine and Gibson carry Intro 214, which would provide legal services to all tenants facing eviction who make less than 125% of the federal poverty line.
Research shows that in almost all cases an attorney could improve the outcome and help keep the tenant in their home. Most tenants can’t afford to hire an attorney and the available free legal services for those who need it do not come close to matching the need.
The imbalance in housing court, where 90% landlords have legal representation but only 10% of tenants do, carries a heavy toll. In 2013 there were nearly 30,000 evictions in New York City. This figure is steadily rising, up more than 20 percent in the past decade. As a direct result, approximately one in three families enter the homeless system after an eviction and our shelter population has reached record highs.
In response, Council Member Mark Levine issued the following statement:
“So many of my colleagues tirelessly fought to fund these initiatives including: Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Council Members Vanessa Gibson, Jumaane Williams, Rosie Mendez, Helen Rosenthal, Ritchie Torres, and Steve Levin. I’m proud of our collective efforts to support our most vulnerable tenants”