Legal groups call for New York City to increase Right to Counsel funding by $351 million
4 mins read

Legal groups call for New York City to increase Right to Counsel funding by $351 million

Similarly, officials executed 2,601 evictions during the first three months of 2023, putting the city on pace for about 10,400 for the year, according to city data. This would surpass last year’s total of about 4,400 but remain far below 2019’s total of about 19,000.

Clifford expects these numbers to continue to rise and likely surpass pre-Covid levels soon enough given the ongoing economic impact of the pandemic.

“I know some people would love to say that the pandemic is over, but the ramifications on low-income people’s lives will have an impact for decades,” she said. “Eviction numbers are only going to go up.”

Providers including Legal Aid, Legal Services NYC and New York Legal Assistance Group are calling on the city to include an additional $351 million in funding for the Right to Counsel program in its fiscal year 2024 budget on top of the existing $110 million in its current contracts . The groups are asking for $50 million in the state budget as well. This would help ensure that every tenant facing an eviction will actually have access to an attorney, as the program intended, according to the groups.

Providers are only contracted to represent about 32,000 eviction cases for the year when fully staffed, and many say they are not fully staffed. Legal Aid has 35 Right to Counsel vacancies, Legal Services NYC has 10, and New York Legal Assistance Group has five, according to the organizations. The three groups are also all suffering from attrition rates above 20% thanks to factors including high caseloads and low salaries.

Legal Services NYC announced in March 2022 that it could no longer staff housing cases in Queens due to demand vastly exceeding supply, while Legal Aid and New York Legal Assistance Group made similar announcements that April. The situation has been largely “start and stop” since then due to attrition and lack of funding, according to Clifford.

The extra $351 million in funding would increase the groups’ capacity to represent tenants and increase fund salaries to help them keep current attorneys and attract new ones, they said.

“Fully funding the program would allow us to double our staffing across the providers and put us in a position where not only are we able to pay people more fairly, but we’re also able to hire people to take on more cases and handle all of the new filings,” said Clifford.

The City Council has already called on Mayor Eric Adams to increase funding for the Right to Counsel program in its response to his budget, and several members also signed on to the legal service providers’ requests.

“Legal service providers are a link in New York City’s legal system but are currently stretched to the breaking point,” City Council Majority Leader Keith Powers said in a statement. “Residents rely on public defenders, but providers are being forced to decline thousands of cases due to severe capacity constraints.”

The city’s baseline budget for tenant legal services is $166 million. Officials are working to increase legal service providers for its Right to Counsel program and launch a pilot in Brooklyn Housing Court that connects tenants with rental assistance, according to the Department of Social Services.

The city enacted the Right to Counsel law in 2017 and sped up its implementation after Covid hit, making it effective citywide in June 2021. It was found at the end of 2021 that 84% of tenants who had representation in their eviction cases were able to stay in their homes.

Related Posts