New Collaborative Program between States and Localities Working to Expand Right-to-Counsel Protections Launches This Month

Results for America, the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel (NCCRC), PolicyLink, and Human Impact Partners have begun accepting applications for Advancing Racial and Health Justice through a Right to Counsel for Tenants Facing Eviction (ARHJ), a program presented in collaboration with Healing Through Policy: Creating Pathways to Racial Justice, an initiative of the American Public Health Association, the de Beaumont Foundation, and the National Collaborative for Health Equity. The application for the ARHJ program is available here.

The nine-session ARHJ program will provide state- and locally based collaborative teams with expert guidance on how to enact, design, implement, and sustain right-to-counsel (RTC) policies and programs within their jurisdictions, with a focus on racial and health equity. The program will also allow member groups to network more effectively across state, city, and county lines, thereby creating a diverse coalition of organizations working to enact right-to-counsel policies and programs nationwide. ARHJ builds on Advancing Housing Justice: Right to Counsel for Tenants (AHJ:RTC), a Solutions Sprint created in partnership with Results for America, the NCCRC, PolicyLink, Heartland Center for Jobs and Freedom, and Red Bridge Strategies.

Eviction cases disproportionately impact low-income renters, making it difficult for tenants to access legal services when served with an eviction notice. Low-income families cannot afford private lawyers, while legal aid programs are frequently unavailable due to high demand and end up turning individuals away approximately half the time. As a result of these circumstances, tenants facing eviction will usually show up to housing court without legal representation. The NCCRC reports that, on average, for eviction cases nationwide, approximately 82% of landlords are represented in court, while only 3% of tenants are. To remedy the unequal access to representation, jurisdictions across the country have passed legislation establishing a right to counsel for tenants. The right to counsel is a legal assurance that eligible tenants will be provided with an attorney when faced with an eviction proceeding.

Right-to-counsel policies and programs are not only effective at keeping tenants housed and improving long-term housing stability, but they are also cost efficient for jurisdictions. Where right-to-counsel policies have been implemented (many are new and in the process of getting off the ground), the impact is clear. In New York City, the first city to enact a right to counsel for tenants, 84% of represented tenants were able to remain in their homes. In Cleveland, an evaluation of the right-to-counsel program showed that 93% of RTC clients avoided an eviction judgment or an involuntary move, and 92% of clients who wanted additional time to move and 97% of those who sought monetary relief were able to get it. Particularly critical at this time, 83% of RTC clients who desired rental assistance were able to obtain it. In Jackson County, Missouri, the eviction rate before right to counsel was enacted was 99% while in the first three months after right to counsel was enacted, the rate was less than 20%. Moreover, states and localities can save money by implementing this policy and preventing the various costs associated with eviction. In Baltimore, for example, for every dollar invested in a right-to-counsel program, the city and state are estimated to save $6.24.

Since 2017, three states and 15 cities have passed right-to-counsel protections for tenants, an impressive pace given that no jurisdiction had enacted such a right prior to 2017. Since the pandemic began, right-to-counsel policies have been gaining popularity, and nine states and dozens of localities are now working to pass right-to-counsel policies this legislative season. For example, Multnomah County, Oregon, will include a right-to-counsel ordinance on the ballot in May 2023.

To learn more about efforts to enact right-to-counsel policies and programs, visit:

Teams interested in learning more about the Advancing Racial and Health Justice through a Right to Counsel for Tenants Facing Eviction (ARHJ) program and determining whether they qualify to participate can find more information here.