From the Field: Advocates Propose Legislation to Make Newark the Second U.S. City with Right to Counsel for Low Income Residents Facing Evictions

Housing advocates in Newark, NJ, are proposing new legislation that would guarantee a free lawyer for every low income resident facing evictions. Nine out of ten tenants facing eviction in Newark do not have an attorney. If the law passes, Newark would become the second city in the nation with the right to an attorney for low income people facing eviction, New York City being the first.

In Newark, 22 evictions were filed for every 100 renter homes in 2016, compared to six evictions filed for every 100 renter homes nationally. Ironbound Community Corporation, Newark Homes for All, Newark Community Development Network, Essex Legal Services, and legal scholar Paula Franzese are working with City administrators on legislation guaranteeing a free lawyer for every low income resident facing eviction to level the playing-field among renters. These advocates are also in the process of forming a formal coalition to educate the community about what right to counsel would look like, why it is needed, and why advocates should lobby their representatives to support the legislation. Many details still need to be worked out, such as how to fund the program and how it would be implemented. New York City’s efforts provide valuable lessons on how to create a feasible model.

Right-to-counsel legislation would keep low income tenants in their homes amid ever increasing rental costs. Median rents in Newark have risen 20% since 2000, according to a report by the Rutgers’s Center for Law, Inequality and Metropolitan Equity. According to NLIHC’s The Gap: A Shortage of Affordable Homes report, 72% of extremely low income households in the Newark-New York-Jersey City metropolitan area spend more than 50% of their incomes on rent, forcing them to make impossible choices between paying the rent and paying for foods, clothing, healthcare, and other basic needs. These households are one financial crisis – a broken down car, a missed day at work, or a medical emergency – away from eviction and possible homelessness.    

“One of Newark's challenges remains how to create new wealth and distribute it to those who need it,” said Joseph Della Fave, executive director of the Ironbound Community Corporation. "How do we keep people who are here? Right-to-counsel legislation would go along a way in fixing that problem.”

For more information, contact Maria Lopez-Nunez at mlopeznunez@ironboundcc.org or 201-978-6660.