HOCHUL’S COURTS MUST CHANGE: Right to Counsel Coalition Marches on Governor Hochul to Demand Passage of Statewide Right to Counsel for NYS Tenants

Last Wednesday, we marched on Governor Hochul’s office to demand she pass much-needed and widely supported Statewide Right to Counsel legislation (S2721-May) and $260 million in funding in the fiscal year 2025 state budget. For the first time ever, the NYS Senate and Assembly have jointly called for a Statewide Right to Counsel for tenants in their One House budget resolutions—but Governor Hochul still has yet to come out in support of this critical protection. 

We rallied outside the Governor’s office in Midtown with signs holding her responsible for the court system, in which landlords are largely represented and the majority of tenants are still unrepresented.


Coalition members march from the public library and rally outside Governor Hohcul's office


“Why is it that the city and state refuse to act to protect our most vulnerable people? There’s over 100,000 families experiencing homelessness and 1 in 4 children in NYC is experiencing poverty. So why isn’t Governor Hochul doing a damn thing?,” asked Raquel Namuche with the Mobilization for Justice Union. “They think we’re not going to fight back, but they’re wrong. Us workers at Mobilization for Justice who are on strike are fighting for a fair contract that makes our work sustainable. We know that as workers, we are also tenants, and we need to fight back in solidarity against the systems that keep us down.”

Since we passed the first ever Right to Counsel for tenants in 2017, RTC has spread like wildfire across the country: over 20 cities, states and counties have Right to Counsel, and everywhere that Right to Counsel has passed, it has proved statistically successful in keeping tenants’ housed, preventing homelessness and displacement, and reducing evictions. 

Council Member Shaun Abreu attested to the success of RTC, saying, “Counsel makes a difference. We know that RTC is a legal mechanism to keep you in your home. It’s the difference between being homeless, and staying in an affordable apartment and in our community. I say this as someone who was a former tenant’s rights attorney in housing court… and as someone who was evicted when I was 9 years old. If my family had had an attorney we might still be living in our rent stabilized apartment today, but unfortunately we did not.” Council Member Abreu introduced a resolution calling on the state to defend NYC’s Right to Counsel law, which the City Council passed last December. 

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There has never been a more urgent time not only to defend local RTC laws but to extend this right to all New Yorkers. 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; meanwhile, over 176,000 New Yorkers are facing eviction statewide. Statewide Right to Counsel and funding would relieve these dire crises by mandating that courts uphold local RTC laws and expanding the right to all New Yorkers in the state who are at risk of displacement. 

The campaign for Statewide Right to Counsel legislation has gained huge momentum this year and support for the legislation has grown significantly: the legislation is supported by over 200 organizations statewide, has a majority of cosponsors in the Senate, and was included in the Black Puerto Rican Hispanic Asian Caucus’s People’s Budget this year. Earlier this month, 43 legal providers called on state leadership to pass and fund the bill. Both the Senate and the Assembly One House Budget resolutions called for the passage of a Right to Counsel for tenants facing eviction and for the establishment of a new state agency, the Office of Civil Representation, to implement the right. They both included funding to set up the office and to expand civil legal services resources across the state with respectively $60 million and $50 million. While this was a milestone for the campaign, the funding included in the One House resolutions is not nearly enough and the coalition continues to demand the complete $260 million needed to fully fund Right to Counsel–as well as the passage of an enforceable RIGHT to Counsel that is guaranteed to protect tenants. 

“Our rights need to be enforceable,” emphasized Lauren Springer, tenant leader with Catholic Migration Services and Right to Counsel Steering Committee Member. “What does that mean exactly? It means that we need a statewide law that applies to all New Yorkers without exception since the court system is administered by the state. We cannot fix this problem at the city or local level since states regulate the courts. It means that Statewide RTC has to require that cases cannot proceed until the tenant is able to get an attorney. And for that matter, an attorney who has the adequate time and resources to prepare the case. In other words, adjournments must be mandated until tenants have been able to secure meaningful representation. In that way, courts can promote justice, due process and equity as opposed to prioritizing the clearing of the dockets. And it means that RTC has to be fully funded.”image1_(3).jpeg

RTC Steering Committee Member Lauren Springer's speech

Until the state budget is released, we will continue to push for the legislature and Governor to work together this year to ensure the passage and funding of a robust Right to Counsel that our communities need and deserve.