URBAN AGENDA: Eviction prevention is good housing policy

10/6/2016, 1:45 p.m.
Fifty-seven years ago, the Supreme Court upheld providing counsel in criminal proceedings as a constitutional right: when life and liberty ...

The mayor’s strategy to help lower-income tenants contest evictions is consistent with his administration’s overarching housing agenda to build and preserve 200,000 affordable housing units over the next eight years. Oddly, the de Blasio Administration has not yet embraced the right-to-counsel bill. More studies are required, the Administration says. I disagree: we have studied this enough.

It’s time to ensure that no tenant enters Housing Court legally overmatched simply because they are poor. Here’s why:

Rents that can be charged for vacant apartments in many neighborhoods across the city – including but not limited to those showing the conspicuous social changes we identify with gentrification – have risen well above what many tenants, regulated or not, are paying. Eviction is therefore a key link in a process by which unaffordable rents feed on themselves and lead to even more unaffordable rents.

In this economy, there continues to be a strong financial incentive for landlords to use all means at their disposal – including misuse of the courts and harassment – to remove tenants in place in order to create a vacancy and raise rents toward the highest amount the market will bear. And the resulting evictions cause an enormous amount of harm, including homelessness, disruptions that may lead to job loss, disruptions in schooling and loss of possessions.

We can slow the erosion of affordable housing in our city. It starts with seeing that ceasing unnecessary evictions is a central element of housing policy, as well as a matter of equal justice. Because every time we prevent the forced move of a tenant household, we save that household not only from the collateral consequences of eviction, but also from the near certainty of a substantial increase in rent in their new apartment above what they previously paid – even where the old rent was unaffordable and may well have contributed to their eviction. Providing a right to counsel to low income tenants is an essential element of the battle here. Pass the legislation, and do it quickly.

David R. Jones, Esq., is President and CEO of the Community Service Society of New York (CSS), the leading voice on behalf of low-income New Yorkers for 170 years. The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer. The Urban Agenda is available on CSS’s website: www.cssny.org.