Low-income tenants facing eviction can now get free legal representation in 2 Philadelphia ZIP codes
Starting Tuesday, low-income tenants facing eviction who live in parts of North and West Philadelphia can get free legal representation under a pilot program to further strengthen rights tenants and continue to reduce the city’s once staggering eviction rate.
More than two years after its enactment, the Right to Counsel program will launch a pilot project that will provide free legal advice to tenants in ZIP Codes 19121 and 19139, whose annual gross income does not exceed $27,180 for a single person and 55,500 $ for a family of four.
“Philadelphia invests millions in protecting and empowering our tenants. That alone is a huge win and game-changer for our city,” said council member Helen Gym, who introduced the legislation in 2019 and celebrated its launch during a virtual press conference on Monday.
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Philadelphia joins New York, San Francisco, Newark, Cleveland, Boulder, Colorado and Baltimore with its program. It follows Philly’s nationally recognized eviction diversion program, which has helped reduce the number of eviction requests by 75% from pre-pandemic levels.
To be connected with an attorney, tenants should call the Philly Tenant Hotline at 267-443-2500 to see if they are eligible. From there, a representative from the Tenant Union Representative Network will connect the caller with a community legal group best equipped to handle their case, such as Community Legal Services or the SeniorLAW Center.
Renters who may not qualify should still call the helpline to learn about other available resources.
In July, the city hopes to add four more ZIP codes to the program’s roster, with the ultimate goal of all low-income Philadelphians being eligible, said Eva Gladstein, assistant general manager of health and human services. ZIP codes with the highest eviction and poverty rates will be prioritized, and more locations will be added based on available funding over the next fiscal year, Gladstein said.
A 2018 report by the Philadelphia Bar Association found that when tenants facing eviction were unrepresented, they were evicted 78% of the time; while tenants with lawyers had a 95% chance of avoiding eviction.
Kadeem Morris, an attorney with CLS, said 87% of landlords in Philadelphia have an attorney, compared to just 16% of renters.
READ MORE: Philly’s program to prevent evictions is a national model. Lawmakers want to make it permanent.
“Justice is only served when justice is balanced,” Gym said.
“It’s just a monumental day for West Philadelphia tenants,” said councilman Jamie Gauthier, whose West Philadelphia Third District includes one of the ZIP codes in the pilot. .
She said the next time a mother calls her office, stressed about losing her home, “I can tell them that they don’t have to fight this alone.”
READ MORE: Philly program that prevents evictions will continue through 2022
Gladstein said about $650,000 has been set aside to fund the program — covering legal services, social services, tenant helpline staffing and initial program implementation. Gym said all the city council bought to invest in preventing evictions, for which a total of $3.4 million is being allocated this year, and that the city is in a “better position than we have.” been for a very long time” to ensure this remains a priority in future budgets.
The Right to Counsel legislation was passed unanimously by the City Council in November 2019. At the time, around 20,000 evictions were filed each year in Philadelphia – the fourth highest among major US cities for the total number of deportations – in what experts called a national deportation crisis. .
In the more than two years that followed, the country grappled with a global pandemic that threatened to deepen this crisis. A moratorium on evictions was instituted nationwide and across the city of Philadelphia — where about half of residents are renters — and experts feared that once lifted, city courts would be inundated with filings.
In September 2020, Philadelphia implemented the Eviction Diversion Program, a nationally acclaimed model that requires landlords to mediate with tenants and apply for housing assistance at least 45 days before filing. an application for deportation in court. Although rental assistance funding ran out earlier this month, landlords should still seek mediation before filing.
» READ MORE: Philadelphia ends its rental assistance program because it runs out of funds
City officials said the program has lightened the workload of Landlord-Tenant Court, helping landlords avoid vacancies and turnover costs, and avoiding stains on tenant records that make it more difficult to search for future accommodation. Landlords and tenants in more than 90% of cases in the program have either reached agreements or are continuing to negotiate, according to the city.
Gym said evictions were once seen as part of life for many low-income Philadelphians, especially communities of color, which are disproportionately affected.
“It just goes to show that things that once seemed impossible to change can actually unravel completely,” Gym said, giving a nod to housing justice advocates across the city.