Virus Lights Fire Under Eviction Right to Counsel Movement

The massive unemployment and economic stress fueled by the novel coronavirus has some access to justice advocates calling for federal lawmakers to not only place a nationwide moratorium on evictions but also to create a right to counsel for those involved in such proceedings, according to speakers on a Wednesday panel at the virtual Equal Justice Conference held by the American Bar Association and National Legal Aid & Defender Association

The right to counsel movement is relatively young, with only five jurisdictions currently having some legislation or policy on the matter.  

Research shows that legal representation among New York City evictees has risen to 38% and that evictions have dropped 41%, including a 15% drop in 2019, according to Pollock. Eviction filings also dropped by 30% overall. San Francisco, which began a similar program, has also seen eviction filing rates drop 10% from 2018 to 2019.

Now, with courts reopening, new socially distant court procedures are adding to the difficulties for tenants trying to maneuver through the eviction proceedings on their own, experts said.

This is pushing many to advocate for new federal legislation to both puts a nationwide moratorium on evictions and to also create a right to counsel for potential evictees.

Before the pandemic, there had been several bills proposing money for new funds with a priority to areas with the right to counsel or to help fund state-based right to counsel pilot programs. None of the bills have passed, but there is a renewed push for similar legislation because of the pandemic.

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