Tenants and Civil Legal Services Workers Stand United: $260 Million for Statewide Right to Counsel

Last Wednesday, tenants and civil legal services workers in our coalition held a press conference and rally in Albany to announce overwhelming support from Legal Services Providers across New York for Statewide Right to Counsel legislation. A Right to Counsel for ALL has not only gained the support of a majority of state Senators and Assemblymembers, but has been championed by the agencies that will ultimately be responsible for implementing Right to Counsel. The 2024 Legal Services Support Letter for Right to Counsel that we released at the rally was addressed to the leadership of New York state and affirms the need for a fully funded, enforceable Statewide RTC. The letter has received 43 sign ons from legal providers from across the state

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Left: MC Wanda Martinez with Sal Curran with Volunteer Lawyers Project of Central NY, Assemblymember Amanda Septimo, Senator Kristen Gonzalez, Assemblymember Michaelle Solages and Senator Rachel May; Right: Dannelly Rodriguez, The People's Attorney, Queens Legal Services

Over 176,000 New Yorkers are currently facing eviction statewide, and in NYC, for over a year, tens of thousands of tenants facing eviction have been denied access to their right to an attorney in housing court. On Wednesday, we gathered on the Million Dollar Staircase in the State Capitol to call on state leadership to address these crises by passing and funding our legislation (S2721 May) with $260 million in the fiscal year 2025 budget. During the rally, our member orgs, representing thousands of tenants throughout the state, made our voices heard in the halls, chanting “Evictions are violent, we will not be silent!” and “Fight! Fight! Fight! Housing is a human right!”.

In recognition of of RTC's urgency and importance, both the 2024 Senate and Assembly One House budget resolutions called for a Right to Counsel for tenants facing eviction and funding for eviction legal services! This has been a huge milestone for our campaign, and is the first time ever that both One Houses called for RTC. While we are encouraged to see unified support for Right to Counsel across the legislature, the funding included in the one-house budgets is not nearly enough and we demand the complete $260 million needed to fully fund Right to Counsel. When RTC passes, we must also ensure that it's enforceable and that courts are mandated to uphold this crucial right.

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Left to Right: Senator Robert Jackson, John Washington with People's Action, Assemblymember Monique Chandler-Waterman

“As a long-time Queens tenant, I can attest to the fact that housing insecurity has become a major issue for many of us. The lucky ones are able to stay in their homes because of the protections that Right to Counsel offers. Our Statewide Right to Counsel legislation would further protect and enforce our rights in New York City” said Wanda Martinez, a tenant leader at Catholic Migration Services. “In addition, passing and fully funding a Universal RTC will support tenant organizing groups and enable proper staffing levels at legal service providers so they can effectively represent their clients. After multiple visits to Albany the Right to Counsel Coalition has educated and lobbied our legislators of the need for a Universal RTC throughout New York State so that all New Yorkers can feel secure in their homes.”

As Michelle Solanges, Deputy Majority Leader in the Assembly and Chair of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian (BPHA) Legislative Caucus said, “In our budget priorities in the BPHA, we called [RTC] a demand for justice because we want to make sure our families are kept whole. When we talk about housing it’s not just about shelter, it’s about stability, it’s about having a home. It’s about people who are facing evictions having a path to Justice. Having legal representation makes all the difference. We know that Justice is blind, but we have a system that has been systematically racist to families, where low income individuals do not have the ability to maneuver this legal system because of the economic injustices that have existed for so long in our country. We stand here to make sure that people facing eviction have the right to have representation by an attorney.”

Sal Curran, Executive Director of the Volunteer Lawyers Project noted the broad support from state legal providers toward a fully funded Right to Counsel, saying “I’m here on behalf of the New York legal services coalition, a coalition of over 39 legal aid organizations. We represent tenants from areas throughout the state. We all agree that housing is a human right but that can’t be upheld without lawyers fighting for people. We do not just prevent evictions, we find solutions for our communities, to help make the affordable housing we have now stay affordable and ensure it remains affordable, and housing that is not habitable, habitable. I’ve been in eviction court a lot these past months and have landlords trying to evict tenants who have sewage in their basements. I'm representing a mom who showed me a picture of her baby’s clothing eaten by rats. Habitability and Eviction are deeply linked.”

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Left to Right: Assemblymember Marcela Mitaynes, Long Island tenant & organizer Ezra Scollo, CASA leaders bring the Bronx power! 

RTC's inclusion in the One House is an opportunity for the state legislature to make a concerted effort to protect tenants from eviction. “Let's turn the tide in New York State's courts, from eviction machines into sanctuaries of justice, where tenants' rights are upheld, landlords are held accountable, and homes are preserved,” said Senator Jackson. “Statewide Right to Counsel is our ticket to justice, dignity, and housing security for all. It's time to invest wisely and compassionately, ensuring every tenant facing eviction has the shield of legal representation. Together, let's keep roofs over heads and build a future where no one fears losing their home."