WASHINGTON, D.C.- The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) awarded its Trailblazer Award to Right to Counsel NYC Coalition (RTCNYC Coalition) for outstanding efforts in organizing low income renters in support of the civil right to an attorney for renters in New York City facing eviction. NLIHC also awarded the Renter Organizing Award to Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Commission (EHOC) and Empower Missouri for advocating to successfully pass legislation in St. Louis restricting “self-help” or “lock-out” evictions. The awards were presented on March 20 at NLIHC’s 2018 Housing Policy Forum: Building the Movement.
The NLIHC Organizing Awards recognize outstanding achievements in state, local and resident organizing that advocates for more people with the lowest incomes to stay in their affordable homes.
The RTCNYC Coalition began organizing in 2014 as a collaborative of advocates, tenants, academics, and legal services providers working in support of the right to counsel for low income renters facing eviction in New York City. Many of the coalition members had been working on issues of affordable housing, tenant power, and housing court reform for decades prior to forming the coalition. The “Right to Counsel” became law on August 11, 2017, after a three-year campaign. The legislation guarantees that low income tenants have the right to full legal representation when facing an eviction. New York City is the first city in the nation to create this right. It is estimated the law will serve 400,000 tenants when fully implemented, prevent 5,000 families from homelessness each year, and save the city $300 million annually.
“This is a huge victory for fundamental human and civil rights at a time when those rights are under attack,” said Randy Dillard, a tenant leader at Community Action for Safe Apartments (CASA) and steering committee member of the RTCNYC Coalition. “For low income families keeping their home is as consequential as it gets. For the first time, New York City's low-income tenants facing eviction will be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve and will have a fighting chance to stay in their homes and communities. We are honored to receive the Trailblazer Award from NLIHC in recognition of our hard work and persistence.”
EHOC and Empower Missouri use education, legal counsel, civic leadership, and research to work for equal access to housing for communities in Missouri and Illinois. The two organizations partnered in 2016 to combat the rising problem of illegal “lock-out” or “self-help” evictions. Together they formed a coalition of fair housing and legal service advocates and successfully managed to move a citywide ordinance to define illegal evictions and tenants’ rights during evictions. Ordinance 70624—“Board Bill 87” an ordinance prohibiting illegal evictions —was introduced to the St. Louis City Board of Aldermen in 2017 by Alderman Terry Kennedy. The legislature passed the bill unanimously, St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson signed it into law in October. In addition to clearly defining illegal evictions, the new law forbids a landlord from collecting rent while a tenant is illegally locked out and institutes substantial penalties for landlords that illegally lockout tenants. A landlord who is found in violation of the ordinance is subject to $500 in fines and 90 days in jail.
“EHOC and Empower Missouri are honored to receive the Renter Organizing Award from NLIHC in recognition of our work on Board Bill 87,” said Jeanette Mott-Oxford, Executive Director of Empower Missouri. “To be acknowledged is not a victory for us alone but it is also a victory for all of the tenants who didn’t feel like they had a voice against intimidating landlords, especially low-income renters often living in sub-standard housing due to affordable housing shortages in St. Louis City. Renters in St. Louis City may now feel empowered to rise together to influence change and fight back against owner-landlords seeking to take advantage of their vulnerabilities. Board Bill 87 is just the beginning of tenant rights advocacy in the state of Missouri.”
NLIHC President and CEO Diane Yentel expressed her appreciation for the work of RTCNYC Coalition, EHOC, and Empower Missouri. “All three organizations honored this year exemplify tenacity, resilience and determination,” said Ms. Yentel. “RTCNYC Coalition pooled their expertise and experiences to enact a law that is the first in the nation and will serve as a model for other affordable housing advocates looking to change decades of injustice. EHOC and Empower Missouri have unlocked doors to future legislation that give tenants the rights and power to demand fair treatment and protection from predatory landlords. NLIHC is honored to present these organizations with the 2018 Housing Organizing Awards and looks forward to highlighting their future successes.”
Established in 1974 by Cushing N. Dolbeare, the National Low Income Housing Coalition is dedicated solely to achieving socially just public policy that assures people with the lowest income in the United States have affordable and decent homes.