RIGHT TO COUNSEL
The Maryland Access to Justice Commission (A2JC) supports a right to counsel in eviction cases. We have been active in promoting the benefits of right to counsel since 2009 and led a Taskforce to Study Implementing a Civil Right to Counsel in Maryland, submitting a report in 2014. We have advocated for the right to counsel in the Maryland General Assembly and are active in the coalition effort to quantify the economic benefit of the right.
Two new studies out the week of May 18, 2020 assert that a Right to Counsel in eviction cases in Baltimore City would prevent evictions and disrupt legacy of segregation.
Establishing publicly funded legal services for low income families in housing court would be a
cost-effective measure that would prevent homelessness, decrease evictions and give poor
families a fair shake.
Matthew Desmond, Pulitizer-Prize Winning Author of
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City
COVID-19 and Evictions
In the wake of COVID-19, housing advocates are forecasting an unprecedented tsunami of evictions. With unemployment numbers rising every week, COVID-19 has unleashed an economic and legal maelstrom that, if not responded to effectively, has the potential to bring pandemic recovery to a standstill.
Effective pandemic recovery must include a plan to minimize evictions because evictions will impact and disrupt every other part of recovery. Most immediately, even as emergency restrictions necessitated by COVID-19 may start to ease, the threat of a COVID-19 resurgence looms large and demands every effort to keep people housed, for the sake of personal and public safety.
Post-pandemic, while the state will need to restart the economy and spur job growth, evictions will cause job loss; and while the state will attempt to redouble its efforts to cure disparities in educational outcomes, evictions will solidify poor educational outcomes for the large numbers of Marylanders impacted. In fact, in addition to job loss and poor educational outcomes, evictions have been proven to cause homelessness, declining credit, and deteriorating health; contribute to children entering foster care; and lead to poor credit scores, loss of personal and financial assets and local support systems (e.g., family networks, child care). This avalanche of eviction-related consequences will prevent post-pandemic economic stabilization - not just for those directly impacted, but the state as a whole.
Right to Counsel in Evictions: A Proven, Cost-Effective Way to Reduce Evictions
Policy-makers in Baltimore City and the state, should apply lessons from a new study that highlights a proven, cost-effective way to reduce evictions. Even before COVID-19, Baltimore City alone was evicting families at a rate above 2.5 times the national average. In Maryland, the only legal mechanism to achieve an eviction is through court order.
In eviction-related court matters, only 1% of tenants have legal representation, compared to 96% of landlords. More than any other factor, the inequities in legal representation have proven to lead to evictions.
A potent and cost-effective solution to reduce evictions is by addressing the inequities in legal representation by providing a right to counsel in eviction matters. Other jurisdictions that have implemented a right to counsel have seen impressive results:
New York City began a phased implementation of a right to counsel in evictions in
2018. Evictions have since dropped 29% in zip codes where the right to counsel was implemented. In zip codes with right to counsel, tenants remained in their homes in 84% of the cases.
Right to Counsel is being implemented in other jurisdictions including Philadelphia,
San Francisco, Cleveland, and Newark. It is also being considered in numerous others, including state-wide efforts in California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohia, Washington state; and city-wide efforts in Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Boulder, D.C., Kansas City, Detroit, Jersey City, New York City, Toledo, Oklahoma City and San Antonio.
It is no surprise that attorneys matter and make a difference in the outcome of a legal case. A new report from Stout Risius and Ross (The Stout Report) concludes that for an annual investment of $5.7 million in a right to counsel for Baltimore City tenants facing eviction, yields $35.6 million in benefits or costs avoided to the City and State including
$10.6 million related to homeless shelters, transitional housing, and mental/physical
health institution housing costs;
$12.5 million in Medicaid savings related to emergency room and in-patient care;
$2.3 million related to lost state funding to City schools due to the chronic absence
of students experiencing homelessness;
$2.4 million in transportation costs avoided related to students experiencing
homelessness in City schools; and
$7.7 million in foster care costs related to children placed in foster care because of eviction.
At a time when policy-makers will be seeking to trim budgets, while improving outcomes, they will need to employ proven and cost-effective solutions to ensure public health and economic stability. A right to counsel in evictions offers an effective solution to stem the tide of post-pandemic evictions. The Stout Report shows a return on investment of 624%. With an investment of $5.7M, Baltimore City and the state of Maryland would see a combined cost savings or value of services estimated at $35.6M, with $17.5M benefitting Baltimore City and $18.1M benefitting the state as a whole.
In the Report by Dr. Tim Thomas, evictions are also noted to be a civil rights issue, with the number of evictions of African American women being 296% times more than that of white men.
A2JC is part of the coalition of over 20 organizations that spearheaded and informed The Stout Report. A2JC strongly recommends including the right to counsel in evictions cases as a proven and cost-effective policy solution to post-pandemic economic stabilization and recovery.
Find more information here: http://bmorerentersunited.org/RTC/