New York City tenants facing eviction will have access to free legal counsel under a plan announced Sunday by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
The mayor unveiled the initiative at a rally with supporters in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, saying the plan would protect tenants threatened with “unlawful” displacement, including those being targeted by landlords looking to replace them with higher-paying renters.
“We have an affordability crisis we have to answer now,” de Blasio said.
The legal support will be paid by a $93 million increase in city funding for tenant legal services that will be phased in over the next five years, the mayor’s office said. The funding increase adds to the $62 million a year the city allocated to expand tenant legal services in 2014.
The mayor credited the 2014 funding surge with decreasing evictions citywide by 24 percent over the past two years.
“To anyone being forced out of their home or neighborhood, we are fighting for you. This is still your city,” de Blasio said.
Under the city’s plan, tenants with household incomes “below roughly $50,000” will have access to free legal representation in housing court. Those earning more will have access to free legal counseling and advice, the mayor said, adding that his office projects the program will serve about 400,000 New Yorkers each year.
The mayor was joined by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and council members Mark Levine and Vanessa Gibson, who had been pushing the city to fund an expansion of legal tenant services since 2014. The so-called “Right to Counsel” bill had failed to make it out of committee for a full council vote as the council and mayor’s office hashed out funding details.
“No longer will low-income New Yorkers have to face the life-altering threat of an eviction alone,” Levine said.
Former Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals Jonathan Lippman lauded the plan, saying, “justice isn’t about the amount of money you have in your pocket.”
Joseph Strasburg, president of the Rent Stabilization Association, which represents 25,000 landlords said the city’s plan was “a good concept,” but argued it would cause a “cash crisis among small building owners” who typically serve eviction notices for tenants who fail to pay rent. Not being able to collect rent as the cases make their way through the system may prevent some landlords from meeting their monthly expenses such as “heating oil and repair bills,” he said.