Today’s Read: Increased Legal Services Contribute to 18% Drop in Evictions

The unrelenting housing affordability crisis throughout the city has forced record numbers of New Yorkers out of their homes and into shelters in recent years. Between FY 2002 and FY 2014, the percentage of families entering a shelter following a formal eviction nearly doubled, from 17 percent to 32 percent.

Fortunately, newly released data indicate that the number of evictions in NYC actually decreased by 18 percent in 2015. This decline follows on the heels of a City initiative to increase the availability of housing court lawyers, who are able to prevent evictions by negotiating more time for repayment of rental arrears, as well as challenging any overcharges or tenant harassment.

The trend is in the right direction, but the majority of low-income tenants in NYC still face housing court without legal representation, while an estimated 90 percent of landlords have attorneys. The initial success of increasing legal assistance for low-income tenants underscores the need for a broader right to counsel in civil proceedings, which will level the playing field and ultimately yield savings in shelter expenses.

As the Coalition’s President and CEO Mary Brosnahan wrote in an op-ed with City Councilmember Mark D. Levine in October, “More than two-thirds of the people in our shelters are families with vulnerable children, and the most common cause of their homelessness isn’t drug dependency or mental illness. It’s eviction. If we can slow the pace of evictions, we will make a major dent in the homelessness crisis.”

Mireya Navarro wrote about the drop in evictions for The New York Times:

Evictions decreased by 18 percent last year, to 21,988 from 26,857 in 2014, even as the number of cases filed by landlords for nonpayment of rent declined by only 2 percent, court and city marshals figures show.

That was the lowest number of evictions since 2005, when 21,945 heads of household lost their homes, according to Housing Court Answers, a tenant advocacy group that runs the information tables at Housing Court and compiles annual eviction totals.

Evictions dropped in 2014, though only by 6.9 percent. Before then, the number had climbed every year since 2005, reaching a peak in 2013, when 28,849 evictions were carried out.

The city has allocated nearly $46 million for legal services for tenants in the last two years, and the money appears to be having the intended effect, officials said.

“The money the city put in for lawyers is working,” said Justice Fern A. Fisher, who oversees Housing Court as the deputy chief administrative judge for the New York City courts.

Efforts by the Human Resources Administration to accelerate emergency rental assistance to people who are in danger of becoming homeless have also helped, she said, echoing tenant lawyers and landlord groups.