Right to Counsel Responds to 2024 State of the State: Universal Statewide Right to Counsel is the best way to keep New Yorkers housed!

We are beyond disappointed to see that Governor Hochul has not included any tenant protections in this year’s State of the State. Over 175,000 New Yorkers are currently facing eviction, city and district courts moved to evict over 80,000 New Yorkers last year, working class people who kept the state running during the pandemic are leaving the state at the highest rate of any demographic group–with NYC’s Black population having declined by nearly 200,000 people in the past two decades, homelessness has increased across NYS by nearly 100% since 2007, 140,000 people are currently crowded into NYC shelters, and homelessness and evictions are disproportionately affecting Black and Latino families, as well as children. This is a completely unacceptable, catastrophic state of affairs that the Governor cannot continue to normalize – it demands urgent action THIS YEAR and collaboration across our local and state governments to ensure swift relief. 

One focus of the Governor’s State of the State is affordability and consumer protection. But tenants are consumers, and desperately in need of policy changes that make life more affordable – yet there is nothing in this State of the State to keep tenants housed or ensure the quality and affordability of that housing.

Another SOTS focus is safety and crime–and yet the Governor is allowing landlords to systematically abuse the court system to violate tenants’ rights, endangering tenants with illegal eviction, harassment, dangerous conditions and other threats to New Yorkers’ safety in their homes, the places they should feel most safe and secure. Contrary to what the Governor has implied, people with mental health conditions are no more likely to be perpetrators of violence. However, they are more likely to be victims of housing instability, which the Governor could act to address THIS YEAR by passing tenant protections. 

Our bill for Statewide Right to Counsel (S2721 / A1493) would establish a RIGHT for all tenants across the state to free legal representation in court cases where tenants' basic human right to a home is at risk and it would mandate that the courts uphold it, fixing the crisis in NYC. Right to Counsel will help tenants stay in their homes, preserve vital affordable housing stock across the state, ensure that the conditions in those homes are safe, and support tenants in holding landlords accountable in court. It will also prevent many mental and physical harms to New Yorkers, which occur when people have to navigate the court system alone, experience eviction and lose their homes. Given the power, track record, and success of RTCStatewide Right to Counsel must be a priority for the Governor.

In addition, NYS tenants need a broad package of tenant protections including Defend Right to Counsel (S3254 / A4993), Winter Eviction Moratorium (S1403 / A4093), Good Cause (S305 / A4454), Housing Access Voucher Program (S568 / A4021) and Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (S221 / A3353). Together, these bills will equip tenants to fight displacement, keeping tenants housed and safe from retaliatory evictions, inclement weather and economic precarity–and create pathways for New Yorkers to ultimately own their homes. New Yorkers need to see these effective policies included in the budget this year. As her State of the State currently stands, rather than welcoming people to New York and keeping longtime New Yorkers in the state, the Governor’s lack of support for tenant protections will further the mass displacement of people from our state. We urge her to take bold action this year and act to keep New Yorkers housed.