On Wednesday, more than 100 tenants, allies and elected officials rallied outside the Bronx and Brooklyn Housing courts to protest the fact that for more than a year, almost 25,000 thousand households have been denied access to the right to an attorney in their eviction case. We know that with RTC, almost all tenants stay in their homes. But with the expiration of the eviction protections last year and the national labor shortage, there aren’t enough attorneys to represent tenants at the pace the courts have set. In response, the courts have moved thousands of cases forward without the attorney they are entitled to under local law.
While tenants and advocates rallied and spoke outside, dozens of tenants went inside both courts and sang the lyrics to the famous protest and civil rights song: “We shall not be Moved.” Tenant after tenant sang a stanza to the song and as the court security officers asked them to leave, tenants continued singing and marching through the hallways and down the stairs to protest their resistance to a housing court that is denying them their rights. As the guards pushed them out, tenants sang, “Tenants have the power, we shall not be moved! We need Right to Counsel, We shall not be moved!”
“For months now we have been doing outreach in housing court because we know judges are moving cases forward without representation," said Randy Dillard, a Bronx tenant and CASA member who sang inside the hallways of the Bronx Housing Court. “Today, we took bold action and disrupted this eviction mill! Evictions are immoral and violent, and we can't continue to let this happen as if it's normal. We stood in the hallways, we sang, we let tenants, the courts and the electeds know that this is not a crisis that can be ignored. We demand that the Right to Counsel be upheld!”
“This is an auspicious occasion,” said Lloyd Smith, a Brooklyn tenant and member of the Flatbush Tenant Coalition who sang inside the Brooklyn Housing Court. “We made our mark. The judges heard us, the security heard us, everyone heard our message loud and clear. Until the next time when we do this again, tenants will not be evicted!”
“I’m here today because like thousands of tenants the pandemic affected me and my housing and now I'm in court defending my home,” said Marisol Morales, a Bronx tenant and CASA member. “During the pandemic, I lost my job and now I'm behind on rent. I spent months in court fighting my case without a lawyer. I was stressed because I didn’t know what to do. I had to take time off of work to try to find a lawyer or apply for assistance, meanwhile my landlord collects rent on 80 buildings. While I couldn’t pay rent during COVID they also didn’t provide services. Thanks to CASA, I have a lawyer and the peace of mind they bring. RTC is a right WE won and the state and the courts have both the responsibility and ability to make it so!
For more than a year, tenants and advocates have put forward a number of solutions:
- The Chief Judge must issue an administrative order to pause all cases until tenants have attorneys;
- The City Council must fully fund RTC so that legal services organizations can retain, train and hire staff;
- NYC Mayor MUST ensure that Local Law 53 is funded now. This law supports tenant organizing groups to educate and organize tenants across NYC about their rights. The Office of Civil Justice has publicly committed to allocate 3.6 million dollars this year but has failed to release the funds.
- The State legislature must pass Statewide Right to Counsel (A.1493/S.2721) and Defend RTC legislation (S3254 / A4993), that strengthens and expands NYC’s law and requires that the courts mandate the adjournments necessary to uphold RTC;
- The city Council must pass resolutions 499 + 345 in support of these state bills.
Yet the city, state legislature and state courts have so far failed to take action. As the state legislative session comes to a close, the city negotiates its budget and a new Chief Judge takes the bench, tenants are rallied to demand their rights be upheld.
Tenants were joined by members of the NYC Council Progressive Caucus who joined the call for the city to increase funding for Right to Counsel.
"Chronic underfunding of public defender and civil legal services organizations has directly harmed oNew Yorkers most in need,” said PC Co-Chair and Council Member Lincoln Restler. “Homelessness is increasing and people are being violently evicted from their homes because we are failing to provide the legally guaranteed Right to Counsel to tenants. The Progressive Caucus is pushing for $351 million of funding for Right to Counsel in this budget to keep tenants in their homes and stop the flood of evictions."
“We are nearing a staggering 25,000 tenants who have faced eviction without the legal support they are entitled to and desperately need,” said PC Co-Vice Chair and Council Member Jennifer Gutierrez. “This Day of Action serves as a stark reminder that the funding for the Right to Counsel program is woefully inadequate. The consequences of this underfunding are dire: families are trapped in a cycle of housing insecurity that can persist for generations, while New York City instead bears the burden of even more costly and ineffective homeless shelters.”
“The Right to Counsel program has been an extraordinary success in keeping people in their homes. If we are serious about housing New Yorkers, we need to make the necessary investments in legal defense so that we can make sure our residents stay housed,” said Council Member Alexa Aviles. “ A failure to make these investments now not only exacts harm on our residents, but costs the city much more in the long run. With the slated increase in rents for our rent stabilized tenants, I call on the city to fully fund Right to Counsel, and make sure we are properly equipped to face a wave of potential tenant evictions."
"As an elected official and New Yorker, I cannot sit idly by as thousands of my neighbors face eviction without representation. Right to Counsel is our best defense against unjust evictions but is woefully underfunded. This has not only resulted in an overworked and underpaid workforce, but also tens of thousands of preventable evictions,” said Council Member Sandy Nurse. “This crisis demands a response and, without decisive action from our City or State leaders, we must fully fund Right to Counsel to end attrition and keep people in their homes. Only then can we effectively fight New York City's eviction machine and secure housing justice for all."
Check out our campaign page for all the ways you can get involved!