$500,000 in new funding puts Philadelphia at the forefront of national movement for right to counsel
PHILADELPHIA — June 29, 2017 — Today, city leaders announced an historic investment in legal assistance for low-income renters who face eviction. The $500,000 in new funding, which Council passed unanimously this spring, will nearly double legal and supportive services for such renters, many of whom are threatened with losing their homes simply for standing up for their right to safe, quality, and habitable housing.
“By taking this step to expand right to counsel for people facing eviction, our city is joining the forefront of a national movement to protect and support low-income people fighting for their rights,” said Councilwoman Helen Gym (At Large).
The new funding followed City Council hearings led by Council members Gym and María D. Quiñones-Sánchez (7th District), in partnership with organizations that are part of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Civil Gideon and Access to Justice Task Force. These hearings shone a light on the significant unmet need for legal assistance for renters, and the pervasive problem of uninhabitable or unlicensed rental properties. Testimony was provided by Matthew Desmond of Harvard University, whose research has brought national attention to the eviction crisis, and Ira Goldstein of The Reinvestment Fund, whose research has demonstrated the scope and impact of eviction on Philadelphia neighborhoods.
“We need legal representation, so we are not taken advantage of by those landlords who do things to tenants who can’t defend themselves. People need to understand the laws, and people need to be given real help,” said Yazmin Vazquez, a Philadelphian who fought and won an eviction case. “I never thought that when I testified to City Council I would be back here celebrating something like this. Thank you all so much for listening to the people, and for giving more renters representation. It means a lot.”
“Evictions serve to deepen the cycle of poverty in which families find themselves trapped. Tenants who are threatened with eviction, and do not know their rights, or do not have legal assistance or access to other support services are at a distinct disadvantage. This additional funding is so important because the loss of housing for any reason can have an enormous ripple effect not only on that person but also on their families and communities. The lack of secure housing makes it harder for children to attend school, for parents to get to their jobs, and for all to access health and other supports they made need,” said Eva Gladstein, Deputy Managing Director of Health and Human Services for the City of Philadelphia.
“We are so grateful to Philadelphia City Council and the City of Philadelphia,” said Rasheedah Phillips, Managing Attorney of Community Legal Services Housing Unit. “This funding sends a clear signal that our leaders recognize that legal aid is a highly effective and important way to prevent homelessness, stabilize neighborhoods, and promote health, safety, and opportunity for people who are struggling to get by.”
“The role of government is to help people when they need it the most,” said Councilman Bill Greenlee (At Large). “This legislation will continue to expand access to counsel for low-income people in Philadelphia. The funding will help families facing eviction avoid homelessness or life in a shelter. This bill helps us achieve that.”
“Eviction and substandard housing cause displacement and homelessness, tearing families apart at the expense of their health and safety,” said Councilwoman Maria D. Quiñones-Sánchez. “Access to justice means giving these families a voice and keeping them safe and healthy in their homes.”
“Keeping people in their homes is about more than just housing,” said Anne Fadullon, Director of the Department of Planning and Development. “It’s about keeping children in school, keeping workers employed and keeping neighborhoods strong.”
“All Philadelphians, whether homeowners or renters deserve peace of mind – especially with respect to the place they rest their heads. The additional $500,000 in funding for such legal support will make that sense of comfort and reassurance possible for low-income renters and their families,” said Councilman Derek Green (At Large).
Watch the press conference: