As the legislative session nears its end, we know the pull to compromise is strong. But we can’t compromise when it comes to people’s lives. Tenants need the laws to defend themselves and the power to raise those defenses – they go hand in hand. Given the depth of the housing crisis, the urgent need and the broad support for both Right to Counsel and Good Cause, we are calling on the legislature to pass both Statewide Right to Counsel and Good Cause Eviction this session.
The housing crisis is severe and it's escalating. Over 165,000 tenants are currently facing formal eviction – and this does not include the many tenants suffering repairs issues, illegal lock-outs, and other forms of displacement. Homelessness in the state is undeniably catastrophic, with at least 90,000 people experiencing homelessness, under-resourced and often dangerous shelters, and an increasing number of asylum seekers whose needs also must be met by this already failing system. The human beings that these statistics represent are disproportionately Black and brown New Yorkers, women and mothers, immigrants, and poor and working class New Yorkers.
Housing injustice is complex. Tenants are systematically disenfranchised and harmed at many intersecting junctures: when landlords violate tenants’ rights at home, tenants have little to no recourse to take their landlords to court to assert their rights, and often face retaliation if they organize; most tenants lack basic protections against eviction and exorbitant rent increases, and so inhabit their homes precariously; and tenants who have been evicted have a difficult time finding affordable new homes, or even finding temporary housing that’s safe and accessible.
This severe and complicated crisis simply cannot be addressed with a single piece of legislation. And yet, as advocates, we are frequently told by legislators to get in line, wait our turn, and not ask for so much. Meanwhile, in the news, the tenant movement’s bills are pitted against each other, and debates play out about which tenant protection is the best. This framework is so divorced from the lived realities of tenants: in truth, we need BOTH Good Cause Eviction and Right to Counsel – and much, much more. And in truth, these bills make each other more effective: Good Cause Eviction will reduce eviction filings and the volume of cases in civil court, and will equip housing attorneys with more defenses to protect tenants from eviction. Right to Counsel is essential to the enforcement of Good Cause Eviction; it will ensure that tenants have robust and free representation, through which they can raise the Good Cause Eviction defense.
Effective and compassionate policy-making would necessitate passing these bills together, before this year’s legislative session ends. We cannot wait our turn or kick the can down the road when people’s lives are at stake; and so we reject the prevailing scarcity model of governance that dictates we can only have one tenant protection a year, if any, and only if the protection is traded for legislation that increases the power of landlords. Even if you take all the tenant movement’s bills in sum, we are asking our elected leadership to meet tenants’ most basic needs.
It’s not idealistic to demand everything we need to survive – it is our collective duty as members of this society, as neighbors, and as thinking, feeling human beings. Powerful interests that pit our bills against each other do not speak for us. We speak for us, and we urge the state legislature to hear us, and to act, when we say: we need Statewide Right to Counsel and Good Cause Eviction, and we need them both to pass this week.