[northside-united] Shout-Out to Laura Lewis for Ithaca Right to Counsel!

Elizabeth V. Keokosky

This is good news and very impressive

Begin forwarded message:

From: Carl Feuer <carlfeuer@...>
Subject: [northside-united] Shout-Out to Laura Lewis for Ithaca Right to Counsel!
Date: November 9, 2021 at 6:18:54 AM EST

Dear neighbors,
Just wanted to do a shout-out in thanks to Fall Creek Alderperson Laura Lewis for her great work in ensuring that tenants in the City of Ithaca will be guaranteed a Right to Counsel if they face eviction in Housing Court.
Below is the press release on this if you are interested.
In Solidarity,

Ithaca Becomes 13th City in Nation to Guarantee Tenants Right to Counsel

In a sweeping change that will help level the legal playing field for Ithaca’s most vulnerable tenants, the Common Council voted unanimously Wednesday night for a Right to Counsel Program that will provide legal representation to tenants facing eviction court. The council also approved $125,000 for the program.  

Ithaca now becomes just the 13th city in the country to guarantee counsel for tenants, joining New York City, Newark, N.J., Philadelphia, San Francisco, Baltimore and seven others. 

The goal of the program is to ensure fairness during eviction proceedings, where the vast majority of landlords have legal representation but few tenants do. This could help more renters stay in their homes after the state’s eviction moratorium ends on Jan. 15.

“As the moratoria begin to expire, we expect a wave–or tsunami–of eviction cases,” said William J. Niebel, an adjunct professor of law who directs Cornell Law School’s Tenants Advocacy Practicum. “At this critical juncture, other tenant legal protections will have to be properly raised in the courts and enforced, to prevent homelessness and the unnecessary displacement of families. The Right to Counsel Program will ensure that this happens.” 

This would ultimately save taxpayers from paying the cascading costs that radiate from evictions. This can include emergency shelter, police resources and foster care, which combine with the social costs to both the family and community (loss of work, disruptions to children/education, unraveling of support networks, etc.).

Studies have shown Right to Counsel programs work. 

In NYC, 86 percent of tenants who had representation were able to remain in their homes. In San Francisco, that number was 67 percent, and its eviction filing rate decreased by 10 percent. 

In 2018, Carl Feuer, now with the Ithaca Eviction/Displacement Defense Project, reviewed each and every eviction case that came before Ithaca’s court. 

“The most striking and shocking finding was that of the 70 individuals and families whom the court ordered evicted, only two had legal representation. For the landlords, lawyers were present in every case but three,” Feuer said. “These tenants, who are disproportionately lower-income and people of color, too often faced a potentially life-changing and devastating eviction alone, without the help of a lawyer.  It was a skewed legal battle and a fundamentally unfair situation.”

Lawyers have also helped protect tenants against Retaliatory Non-Renewal by empowering a tenant to sue a landlord if, by raising concerns as to the physical condition of a housing unit, a tenant is retaliated against in the form of non-renewal of a lease.

The program’s legal representation will be managed by LawNY, which is a partner in the IEDD (coordinated through the Human Services Coalition of Tompkins County). 

“Without legal advice and representation, a tenant cannot take full advantage of the laws that are meant to protect them from losing that basic necessity, a safe and habitable place to live,” said LawNY’s Keith McCafferty, managing attorney. “The right to counsel is a huge step forward in our community.”

IEDD core team member and Alderperson Laura Lewis was credited by council members with championing the Right to Counsel project. Lewis said “ I think it's important to recognize that local partnerships have been developed, and that this is really leveraging services that will benefit our most vulnerable residents.”

That work includes building relationships within the court system (including with judges) and spreading awareness of tenants’ other rights and resources, many of which are included in the Ithaca Eviction/Displacement Defense Project. Tenants can access these legal resources and other support by dialing 2-1-1 or the Tenants’ Legal Hotline at 607-301-1560.

By the numbers: 

In the City of Ithaca, 74% of residents are renters (HUD Consolidated Plan 2019-2023). This includes: 
  • 56% of tenants are housing cost burdened (paying more than 30% of their income toward rent); 
  • 41% of tenants are severely housing cost burdened (paying more than 50% of their income in rent);
  • 49% of Black renters and 45% of Latinx renters in the City of Ithaca are severely housing cost burdened, compared to 25% of white renters

Northside United is a grassroots organization dedicated to strengthening connections between people who live, work and worship in Ithaca NY's Northside neighborhood.
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