Stopping Homelessness Before it Starts

Councilmember Vanessa L. Gibson stands with tenant activist Pat Simonds at the Right to Counsel forum
Councilmember Vanessa L. Gibson stands with one of our amazing tenant activists, Pat Simonds, at the Right to Counsel forum

Just a year and a half after being signed into law by Mayor Bill De Blasio, New York City’s groundbreaking Right to Counsel law is showing impressive results—and being adopted by cities and states across the country. Now Goddard Riverside is working with organizations across the city to strengthen and expand it.

Before the law passed, few low-income tenants who faced eviction in Housing Court had a lawyer by their side. RTC, as it’s often called, provides them with legal counsel Ð and that’s proving to be a game-changer.

“The eviction rate is down 37% because we’re leveling the playing field!” exulted City Councilor Mark D. Levine at Goddard Riverside’s recent Right to Counsel forum.

Preventing evictions helps preserve affordable housing. It’s also a key step in preventing homelessness. In a 2017 survey, 66% of low-income New Yorkers said they could not afford to move within their borough. If they were evicted, these tenants would be at serious risk of homelessness.

Levine was a co-sponsor of the original RTC bill, along with Councilmember Vanessa L. Gibson of the Bronx. The two are now co-sponsoring a new bill to expand and improve on the law. RTC 2.0, as Levine calls it, would raise the income limits to help more New Yorkers. It would also address what advocates call a major need Ð funding to educate and organize tenants.

“Someone knows someone that’s facing eviction,” said Gibson, who spoke at the forum after Levine. “Someone knows someone that’s being harassed by their landlord.” But many tenants still aren’t aware there’s a law that can help them. A recent survey found that more than half of the tenants who qualified for a lawyer at Bronx Housing Court didn’t know..

“Advocacy and outreach have always played a major role in housing law,” said Goddard Riverside Law Project tenant organizer Sandra Contreras. “In order to use their rights, people need to understand their rights. Doing outreach and assisting tenants to organize into groups that can advocate for themselves is an important part of the process.”

Want to help win an expanded Right to Council? The RTC NYC Coalition, which Goddard Riverside belongs to, is circulating a petition you can sign and share: https://www.righttocounselnyc.org/right_to_counsel_power_to_organize_petition. There will be rallies and other activities during the legislative session; stay tuned for more opportunities to get involved!

You can also help by telling your friends and neighbors about the Right to Counsel. RTC is being rolled out throughout the city over a five-year period. The following ZIP codes are eligible; the ones in bold were just added in December. Do you live in one? Help get the word out! Click here for basic information on the Right to Counsel, including income limits. 

Bronx: 10453, 10457, 10462, 10467, 10468
Brooklyn: 11207, 11216, 11221, 11225, 11226
Manhattan: 10025, 10026, 10027, 10029, 10031, 10034
Queens: 11373, 11385, 11433, 11434, 11691
Staten Island: 10302, 10310, 10303, 10314