Matthew Desmond, an assistant professor of sociology and social studies at Harvard, recently wrote a great Op-Ed in the New York Times that makes a strong case for providing public funding for lawyers to represent tenants facing eviction. None of us who witness what goes on in eviction court today need to be reminded that virtually no tenants are represented by a lawyer, while landlords almost always are – with the predictable result that landlords almost always win and tenants almost always lose.  But Mr. Desmond’s research (he is writing a book on the subject) reveals the enormity of eviction’s consequences on society: increased homelessness, missed schooling and poor academic performance among children, entrenched poverty and depression.  He also points to a study that suggests legal representation would help the majority of families facing eviction stay in their homes, avoiding the downstream damage to their lives, and saving government money in the long run. Here is my December 10 (Letter to the Editor) in response.

Sadly, Matthew Desmond (“Tipping the Scales in Housing Court” – November 29) describes the scene in eviction court all too accurately. And although there are agencies, including our own, offering free legal assistance to poor and low-income tenants facing eviction, many people do not know such help exists, and even if they do, demand far outstrips the services available.  Now, we can add to this dismal picture the impact of Sandy. In the month since the storm, New York Legal Assistance Group has received thousands of requests for assistance. Landlord-tenant disputes over habitability and repairs are quickly becoming a major issue. Though many banks and institutions have placed a temporary hold on evictions and foreclosures, these reprieves are set to expire soon and we expect a flood of evictions in the new year. Tenants who stopped paying rent on uninhabitable space or who cannot afford payments after losing a job in the wake of the storm will need attorneys to protect their rights in these lengthy proceedings.

Now more than ever there are economic, social and moral reasons to give tenants a fighting chance by putting lawyers by their sides in eviction court.

Blog Post by Yisroel Schulman
President & Attorney-in-Charge