Right to Counsel Responds to the 2024-2025 State Budget

The fiscal year 2025 state budget is a betrayal of working class New Yorkers and of the over 176,771 New Yorkers currently facing eviction. Daniel Osagie Inneh, of Queens, is one of those tenants and a leader who spoke out for our movement in the final days of the budget negotiations. He said, "My hope vanished on my first court date, when I learned that judges were refusing to uphold New York City's Right To Counsel law. Instead of receiving an attorney, I was put on a long waitlist, where I remain today. I’ve been filled with despair as I navigate housing court alone." This budget leaves Daniel and hundreds of thousands of vulnerable New Yorkers at risk of losing their homes, while giving handouts to landlords. It is clearer than ever that Governor Kathy Hochul in particular does not serve the people of New York, but her real estate donors.

Hochul did not consider the New Yorkers who voted her in. Instead, she prioritized the real estate industry and ensured them that she’s only interested in supporting them instead of the middle to low income families who are facing losing their homes” Ruth Riddick, Tenant Leader with the Flatbush Tenant Coalition.  

Leadership could have championed any of the policies that the tenant movement has been advancing for years–policies that we already know, because of their tremendous success in other jurisdictions, would help to alleviate the housing crisis. Our coalition continues to campaign for a Statewide Right to Counsel (May-S2721) that, if passed, would keep the vast majority of tenants served in their homes. Yet state leadership took up none of these solutions in their final budget. 

Instead, the “housing package” passed in the budget this year includes numerous giveaways to landlords including partial rollbacks to the 2019 rent stabilization laws, a gutted version of Good Cause Eviction, and no Right to Counsel. 

The unconscionable giveaways to real estate will further facilitate ongoing destruction of our communities for the sake of profit. We are beyond disappointed that a legislature constituted of many members who made history with the passage of the HSTPA in 2019 would undo their own hard work. This is senseless, spineless governing. 

Good Cause Eviction, shamefully whittled down in negotiations from a gold standard law fought for by tenants across NY State, is full of exceptions and will require community organizing resources for eligible tenants to know how and when to raise it as a defense, as well as attorneys to represent tenants. 

"Sadly, this budget version of Good Cause will have tenants playing guessing games on whether they're even covered. Within the supposed 'tenant protections', confusing lines were added. How does confusion get solved? Attorneys. People will need housing lawyers to interpret and test these new laws. As the need for legal representation swells in housing court, the painful shortage of lawyers will lead to greater pain, and soon. Most tenants aren't lawyers. Right to Counsel needs to happen for all New York State.”--Hui Cheng, Tenant Leader

As communities across the state seek to secure and implement Good Cause Eviction, rent stabilization and other protections, Right to Counsel is more important than ever. But the Governor would not even consider passing a severely amended version of our RTC legislation that would have merely established the infrastructure for a Right to Counsel pilot. Even though both Senate and Assembly One House resolutions called for this basic first step towards a true RTC for tenants, leadership refused to act. 

Furthermore, while we were pleased to see the reallocation of $50 million for eviction legal defense, we were disappointed in the Governor’s last minute move during negotiations to sweep $55 million from the the Interest on Lawyer Accounts (IOLA) Fund to cover $15 million for eviction legal defense, as well as the cost of the state’s foreclosure prevention program (HOPP) at $40m. This sweep reduces the net amount of funds available to provide civil legal aid to low-income New Yorkers. We are already facing a serious civil justice gap–we need elected leadership to significantly grow funds for eviction legal services, not redirect scarce existing ones. 

The leadership we deserve would prioritize community health and safety, equity in the courts and public savings over landlord profit. This kind of leadership is not reflected in this year’s budget. We are determined to elect new leadership in Albany and grow the movement in our streets and homes in order to pass Right to Counsel for ALL tenants in this state and end all evictions.

“After a year full of heartfelt actions, our cause saw positive gains and support from our legislators. The Governor and certain elected officials chose to ignore the need to protect tenants in the midst of an affordable housing crisis! It’s time to show how important RTC really is to us! We cannot be silent. Get out and vote. See you on the battlefield!”--Wanda Martinez, tenant leader with Catholic Migration Services.