As the state legislative session draws to a close, the Right to Counsel NYC Coalition calls on state legislators to pass Statewide Right to Counsel (S2721-May/A1493-Joyner) to establish the right to a free attorney for all New Yorkers facing displacement. With the state court system flouting NYC’s vital Right to Counsel law, and NYC and state leadership unwilling to take bold action to permanently house incoming asylum seekers, there’s never been a more pressing moment to keep tenants in their homes and prevent further homelessness.
The state legislature’s Black Puerto Rican Hispanic Asian caucus is pushing Statewide Right to Counsel as a key racial justice measure that should be passed before the end of the session, and Politico reported Friday that legislators have formed a working group to develop a housing deal in the final days of session. There’s clearly still time for legislators to act, and they have a moral imperative to do so when it comes to Right to Counsel: when your house is burning, you don’t wait until next year to call the fire department. Coming on the back of a disastrous pandemic, crises in the courts and shelters have exacerbated the state’s systemic housing problems. New Yorkers are suffering. We need our legislators to step up and lead with the moral vision and sense of urgency necessitated by our unjust housing system and its devastating, escalating effects.
In New York City, Statewide Right to Counsel would fix the crisis of courts failing to uphold NYC’s Right to Counsel law. The first ever Right to Counsel for tenants in the nation has proven tremendously successful in keeping tenants housed. However, since the moratorium ended last January, courts have prioritized speedy eviction of New Yorkers over enforcement of Right to Counsel. Courts are moving cases so fast that attorneys cannot represent all the tenants who are eligible for RTC. The court system has long amounted to a weapon, funded with public dollars, that landlords wield to evict tenants and skirt accountability, and this will continue to be the reality if legislators fail to pass Statewide Right to Counsel this session. We need this legislation to ensure the enforcement of NYC’s RTC law and to expand RTC to all tenants across New York state, in order to stop landlords from systemically violating tenants’ rights, and to protect tens of thousands of tenants from the long lasting trauma of eviction.
While this injustice in the courts unfolds, incoming asylum seekers are facing another crisis - a void of political leadership working to secure them safe and secure housing. While units in NYC sit vacant, Mayor Adams is more focused on enacting austerity and revoking his responsibility to house New Yorkers than he is on quickly moving people out of shelters and into permanent housing. Meanwhile, elected officials in other parts of the state are using lawsuits to block migrants from our communities, and fear mongering with hateful, divisive rhetoric. Rather than pitting long-time residents against our newest neighbors, elected leadership must permanently house ALL New Yorkers, and everything should be done to keep people in their current homes and out of the under-resourced, failing shelter systems. The tenant movement has advanced many solutions to prevent homelessness: Right to Counsel, a Winter Eviction Moratorium, Good Cause Eviction, and more. All we need is leadership brave enough to take action this session.