A new report finds that Connecticut’s Eviction Right to Counsel Program has been successful in diverting and minimizing eviction filings within the state since it began one year ago. Right to counsel – a legal guarantee that tenants facing the threat of eviction will have representation from an attorney in court – has not only enabled 71% of those Connecticut residents who utilized the program’s services to avoid an involuntary move but has also helped over 76% of tenants prevent eviction filings from being added to their records. The right-to-counsel program, which went into effect in January 2022, makes Connecticut one of only three states and 15 cities nationwide to have established right-to-counsel policies and programs.
Given the report’s key findings, the overall message is clear: tenants who needed help were able to access it. Prior to the launch of the program, only 7% of tenants facing eviction in Connecticut had representation from an attorney, while 80% of landlords did. The report found that with the right-to-counsel eviction diversion program in place, the number of tenants who were able to secure legal representation statewide increased more than 60% by December 2022, helping 2,148 people who would not otherwise have been able to access these services.
The report also showed positive impacts for tenants of color. Evictions, especially in Connecticut, have long impacted Black and Hispanic communities at rates disproportionately higher than those of their white counterparts. CT Data Collaborative, an organization that tracks eviction data across the state, found that Black renters are two times as likely as white renters to face an eviction. In particular, Black women are 1.4 times more likely to be served an eviction notice across all renter groups. As a result, of those who accessed services from the program, 75% identified as non-white, making non-white renters the largest group of individuals served.
The report also found that the right-to-counsel program also likely saved the state millions of dollars it would otherwise have spent on providing healthcare services, housing services (such as emergency shelters), and education services for children. Overall, the realized economic benefits between January 31, 2022, and November 30, 2022, totaled between $5.8 million and $6.3 million.
“People organized around establishing a right to counsel because the eviction process is unfair and inaccessible to unrepresented tenants,” said Greg Kirschner, executive director and legal director of the Connecticut Fair Housing Center. “This report puts data behind what the right to counsel coalition knew – that evictions harm renters and communities and Connecticut is best served by finding more just and humane alternatives to eviction business as usual. There is more to be done, including reigning in out of control rent increases and requiring good cause for landlords to end tenancies – so families are not forced to move for no reason.”
Indeed, a right to counsel for tenants can ensure that individuals facing the immediate threat of displacement because of an eviction filing are able to stay housed. Evictions have lasting consequences – especially in a state where eviction rates have historically been alarmingly high. In 2016, the Eviction Lab at Princeton University ranked four cities in Connecticut among the 100 urban centers in the country with the highest eviction rates. Even with a federal and state eviction moratorium in place, the state reported an average of more than 500 eviction filings per month during the pandemic – increasing to more than 1,000 filings in December 2021. Still, however, the annual number of eviction cases filed in the state was 53% lower in 2021 than the pre-pandemic average, which, in December 2019, was almost 1,500 eviction cases.
Before a permanent program was decided upon nearly two years ago, right-to-counsel policies and programs in the state had gone through a few iterations. In 2016, when the state was first considering right-to-counsel legislation, lawmakers put forth “Senate Bill 426” to create a legislative task force to research how the state could improve access to legal counsel for individuals facing civil proceedings. In 2019, per recommendation from the task force, lawmakers passed “Senate Bill 652” with overwhelming bipartisan support to guarantee a right to counsel to tenants with incomes of less than $50,000 per year. The bill was later amended under “Senate Bill 531” to provide support to renters making less than $75,000 a year. However, because of rising rental costs, coupled with the immediate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the most recent bill, “House Bill 6531,” expanded eligibility to residents making less than 80% of the state’s area median income (AMI), which, today, is around $55,000 a year.
“House Bill 6531,” which was formally passed in 2021, authorized the creation of a permanent right-to-counsel program to assist low-income renters in the state’s 14 cities with the highest concentrations of eviction filings. Together, these 14 cities – which include Hartford, New Haven, and Stamford – account for 25% of all eviction filings in the state. The program is currently funded with $20 million in initial funding from the state’s federal State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, with another $2.4 million in funds coming from both the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and several foundations. Tenants eligible for assistance must not only meet the program’s income requirements, but they must also live in one of the ZIP codes serviced by the program. Veterans are also able to access the program’s services, regardless of where they live or what their income is.
The program is currently being run in partnership with the Connecticut Bar Foundation, Connecticut Legal Services, Connecticut Veterans Legal Center, Greater Hartford Legal Aid, and the New Haven Legal Assistance Association, Inc.
The program also has support from the Connecticut Fair Housing Center, a statewide organization whose mission is to ensure that all people have equal access to housing opportunities in Connecticut, free from discrimination. During the 2021 legislative session, the Connecticut Fair Housing Center, along with 40 other community organizations advocated for the passage of House Bill 6531. The Connecticut Fair Housing Center is also a cohort member of NLIHC’s End Rental Arrears to Stop Evictions (ERASE) Project. To learn more about the ERASE Project, visit: https://nlihc.org/erase-project
To learn more about Connecticut’s right-to-counsel program, visit: https://www.evictionhelpct.org/