Today’s Read: New York City Activists Mobilize for Right to Counsel in Eviction

A bill proposed to the New York City Council, if passed, would make the city the first municipality to provide free legal counsel to low income tenants at risk of eviction.

Currently 90 percent of landlords are represented by attorneys during housing court while 90 percent of tenants are not.

City Councilmember Mark Levine, who co-authored the bill, Intro 214, told that evictions are the single great cause for families entering into the shelter system, noting that Housing Court judges ordered nearly 30,000 evictions in 2013.

Tonight, more than 60,000 individuals will sleep in homeless shelters.

“Since 2002, there’s been a 91 percent increase in homelessness,” [Patrick Markee] says, with an average of 110,000 people a year moving through the system. This does not include those in domestic violence or youth shelters, or living in housing for people with HIV/AIDS. “Overall, the number of homeless people is the highest it’s been since the Great Depression, and the average stay in city-run shelters is now 14 months. It’s noteworthy that one-third of homeless people have jobs and that two-thirds were previously homeless and are now back in the system for a variety of reasons.”

Markee further emphasizes the enormity of expenditures on temporary housing: $38,000 per family, per year.

Levine said the bill’s passage would be an investment for taxpayers, as each dollar spent on homelessness prevention saves $5 to $6 in incarceration and temporary shelter costs.

Legal representation for low income tenants could also leave landlords less likely to initiate unnecessary lawsuits.

Hearings on the proposed bill are expected to take place early this year.