Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced yesterday that New York City would fund the Right to Counsel initiative – meaning free legal services for tenants making under $50,000 who are facing eviction. This builds on City Hall’s ramp-up in eviction prevention funding since 2013, which has helped reduce evictions in NYC by 18% from 2014 to 2015.
New York City’s tenant support efforts are great news, but other areas in the region are also facing critical housing crises and receiving little attention, or funding. For instance, New Jersey’s Essex County received a startling 40,000 filings on tenant-landlord cases in FY 2015 (while these include non-eviction cases, looking at comparable breakdowns in New York City shows that almost 95% of housing court cases are eviction proceedings). This is one filing for every seven households in Essex County. By comparison, New York City sees about one eviction filing for every 13 households, and the average among other northern New Jersey counties is closer to one in 20 households.
This doesn’t necessarily mean one in seven households was hit with an eviction filing. A single household in a tough financial situation can, and often does, get hit with multiple eviction cases throughout the year, each one costing more and more in additional fees & lost wages, and making it increasingly difficult to get out of a financial hole.
While funding for tenant legal services in NYC has gone up seven-fold since 2013, money to support anti-eviction work is evaporating in New Jersey. Legal Service in New Jersey–a critical housing resource for low-income households– has seen funding decline for the last decade. Now this 42 year old organization is worried about the Trump administration completely eliminating their federal funding. As a result, unlike New York City, New Jersey isn’t on a downward trend when it comes to evictions.
As our regional population continues to grow, strategies to keep low-income renters from being unfairly evicted from their homes will become increasingly critical. Evictions are incredibly stressful and disruptive to people’s lives, and all too often are occurring illegally. It’s time to give more attention—and funding—to the needs of the tens of thousands of renters facing housing instability not just in New York City, but across the region.