Testimony of ANHD, JustFix, and BetaNYC before the New York City Office of Civil Justice Regarding the Right to Counsel for Tenants Facing Eviction

Thank you for the opportunity to testify. My name is Lucy Block and I’m a Senior Research and Data Associate at the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD), testifying on behalf of members of the Housing Data Coalition. ANHD builds community power to win affordable housing and thriving, equitable neighborhoods for all New Yorkers. As a member organization of community groups across New York City, we use research, advocacy, and grassroots organizing to support our members in their work to build equity and justice in their neighborhoods and citywide. HDC is a group of organizations and individuals that collaborate on the use of public data to further housing justice in New York City and to combat speculation and displacement.

As part of HDC’s work, ANHD, along with University Neighborhood Housing Program (UNHP), JustFix, and BetaNYC, have been collaborating with the Right to Counsel Coalition for over four years to obtain, publish, and analyze housing court data from the Office of Court Administration (OCA). This data allows us to quantify the state of evictions in New York City and New York State. With access to OCA data, we have been able to track trends in eviction filings throughout COVID and the implementation and expiration of various legal protections against evictions.

Filings have taken off since the end of eviction protections

Despite multiple protections against evictions proceeding through the courts, landlords consistently filed eviction cases in large volumes throughout most of the pandemic. Over 82,000 residential evictions were filed in New York City between March 23, 2020, and January 15, 2022. Over 110,000 evictions have been filed since then.

Chart by ANHD. Data source: NYS Office of Court Administration via the Housing Data Coalition in collaboration with the Right to Counsel Coalition, available at github.com/housing-data-coalition/oca.

As you are aware, advocates warned that the lifting of eviction protections would flood and overwhelm the courts. The Right to Counsel Coalition and the legal services providers that represent tenants in their eviction cases knew that there was not adequate infrastructure to handle all the eviction cases in the pipeline. But in contrast with the series of orders that accounted for the exceptional circumstances of the pandemic by slowing eviction cases, on January 15, 2022, the courts reverted to the pre-pandemic status quo, with grave consequences.

Since early last year, providers have not been able to take on all tenants facing eviction who are eligible for Right to Counsel. Tenant attorneys, who do their work because they care deeply about the right to housing of New York City’s most marginalized and vulnerable tenants, are overworked and exhausted. Over and over, they are facing the impossible choice of either turning tenants away, meaning that tenant may unnecessarily lose their home, or taking on so much work that they simply cannot do all of it with integrity. As a result, they are experiencing intense burnout, meaning that attorneys are leaving their organizations in droves, only exacerbating the problem. Unionized attorneys are striking in part due to these unsustainable caseloads. The situation is absolutely untenable and unjust to tenants and attorneys alike.

Less than half of tenants have representation

In collaboration with the Right to Counsel Coalition and the other organizations involved in this work, ANHD calculated the “rate of representation” for eviction cases that were filed since January 15 of last year. To do this, we took all residential non-payment and holdover cases filed in New York City courts after that date that have had two scheduled appearances already occur. We excluded cases in which tenants never appeared. We then took the share of cases in which the defendant was represented by counsel or was marked as “SRL” - a self-represented litigant. By dividing the represented defendants by the total number of cases that met these criteria, we arrived at our rate of represented tenants.

What we found was the following: Out of all eviction cases that have been filed in New York City since eviction protections ended on January 15, 2022, only 47% of tenants who appeared in court[1] have received representation in their case -- whether through Right to Counsel or not. Because some of those tenants have private attorneys, the share of tenants with Right to Counsel representation is lower than 47%. The share of unrepresented tenants equates to over 17,000 households – 17,535 as of this week – who are facing eviction in court alone. In contrast, it has been estimated that 82% of households facing eviction should be eligible for Right to Counsel.[2] This is the current state of affairs, and it is shockingly inadequate.

Chart by the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD) in collaboration with the Right to Counsel Coalition. Data source: NYS OCA.

Denying legal representation and protections in housing court impacts Black and brown tenants most. As a result of discriminatory housing policy, racist systems of urban development, segregation, wealth extraction, and disinvestment from communities of color, poor Black and brown tenants are most often the ones losing their homes through eviction. ANHD has found that evictions are filed more than twice as often in majority people of color zip codes compared to majority white zip codes.[3] Evictions destabilize households and communities and fuel displacement. They are violent and disruptive, and result in tenants entering a shelter system that is under-resourced and an unaffordable, competitive housing market that prioritizes profit over people. They have a harmful impact on education, employment, relationships, and physical and mental health. New York has the power to change this, and it is the Office of Civil Justice’s responsibility to make sure we do.

OCJ must push the courts to change course

Right to Counsel was a landmark victory that was hard-fought by advocates and tenants alike to shift the enormous historic imbalance between landlords and tenants and reduce homelessness. When properly implemented, RTC keeps 84% of tenants facing eviction in their home. But because of the decisions of our courts and government officials, RTC is failing to meet its mandate.

The Office of Civil Justice was created to implement Right to Counsel and is responsible for upholding it. OCJ is not fulfilling that responsibility. We understand that ultimately, the State courts must implement our City law, and are not legally compelled to do so without legislation at the State level. However, OCJ has a history of pushing the courts to make changes that are fully within their power in order to uphold RTC, such as adjusting calendars, posting accurate signage, and having judges make announcements to inform tenants of their rights and options. The implementation of RTC was a collaboration between OCJ and the courts. Now, OCJ is remaining silent and allowing legal service providers to take the blame for a problem that can only be solved by the courts.

We call on OCJ to do the following:

  • Publicly state that you will defend RTC
  • Demand that the courts:
    • Issue an administrative order that mandates all eviction cases where a tenant is eligible for RTC be stayed until the tenant is able to retain an RTC attorney
    • Calendar new eviction cases only after all eligible tenants with currently pending cases have retained counsel for full representation.
    • Reduce the volume of eviction cases on court calendars so that the number of new cases each day matches legal service provider capacity to provide full representation to all eligible tenants.
    • Provide sufficient time between court dates to allow time for lawyers to complete essential work on each case, keeping in mind the current staffing shortages and work overload.
  • Manage the waitlist of tenants to ensure that all tenants who have been denied RTC get a lawyer
  • Meet regularly with tenants and organizers to develop solutions
  • Increase the budget for RTC by at least $70 million and ensure that future funding matches the need
  • Announce when you will release the Fiscal Year 2024 Request for Proposals for $3.57 million to implement Local Law 53.

Stable housing is critical to the overall health and wellness of individuals and communities, and we have the power and tools to ensure that stability for tenants. Housing court, as it is operating today, is failing to do so, and OCJ is allowing it to happen. OCJ must fulfill its mandate by backing the Right to Counsel Coalition’s demands to solve the current crisis in housing courts. Universal access must be universal. Thank you again for the opportunity to testify.


Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD)



[1] Instances in which tenants did not appear in court are excluded from this analysis.
[2] Report of Stout Risius Ross, Inc. for Pro Bono and Legal Services Committee of the New York City Bar Association: The Financial Cost and Benefits of Establishing a Right to Counsel in Eviction Proceedings Under Intro 214-A, 2016. https://cdn2.hubspot.net/hubfs/4408380/PDF/Cost-Benefit-Impact-Studies/SRR%20Report%20-%20Eviction%20Right%20to%20Counsel%20%203%2016%2016.pdf, p.3.

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