DeLauro Introduces Legislation to Increase Access to Legal Counsel for Evictions
Evicted from Her Home as a Child, DeLauro Learned Firsthand that Tenants are Set Up to Fail
Connecticut General Assembly Recently Passed Right to Counsel Legislation
WASHINGTON, D.C. — House Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-CT-03) reintroduced H.R. 3580, the Eviction Prevention Act, that would help low-income people access legal counsel if they are being evicted. This legislation creates a block grant program to allow states to hire attorneys to defend tenants in eviction proceedings. Research has shown that providing tenants with legal representation drastically increases their ability to stay in their home, even if only temporarily so they have time to move.
Despite robust rental assistance to combat the impacts of COVID-19, the United States will likely see an influx of evictions. In March 2021, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued a report that warns of widespread evictions and foreclosures once federal, state, and local pandemic protections come to an end. Over 11 million families are behind on their rent or mortgage payments: 2.1 million families are behind at least three months on mortgage payments and 8.8 million are behind on rent. Homeowners alone are estimated to owe almost $90 billion in missed payments.
“Too often in our country, poverty is criminalized,” said Congresswoman DeLauro. “Fighting an eviction without a lawyer is a rigged game, with far too many wrongful or disputed evictions. While the CDC moratorium on evictions helps alleviate the public health consequences of tenant displacement, tens of millions of Americans who were financially hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic will be at risk of losing their housing when the protections expire. Worse yet, most individuals who face eviction will be forced to do so without access to legal representation. As a woman who was evicted from her home as a child, I know firsthand that the federal government can do more to support individuals facing eviction. While several cities have established a right to counsel, we must pass the Eviction Prevention Act to make this a reality across the country.”
“Despite the countless hardships that many families have endured throughout the pandemic, I am so glad to know that facing an eviction proceeding without legal representation will not be one of them,” said State Representative Brandon McGee (D-Hartford/Windsor). “This legislation is critical to keeping families and children safe from eviction throughout Connecticut and across the nation. It is vital, now more than ever, that tenants receive the fair and equitable legal proceedings they deserve. This bill is another step towards racial equity as black and brown folks have been disproportionately impacted by lack of legal counsel in eviction proceedings. This is the least our country can do to support the hard working families who lost their jobs due to the pandemic. I am hopeful knowing our country is following the lead of Connecticut and Washington State.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic shut down will result in a wave of evictions that will disproportionately affect people of color,” said Connecticut Fair Housing Center, Inc., Executive Director Erin Kemple. “In Connecticut, of 180 eviction cases filed since February 2021, 158 of the landlords had an attorney while only 10 of the tenants were represented. This disparity is mirrored around the country. A right to counsel will level the playing field and ensure that tenants receive help in keeping their homes.”
“There is no understating the urgent need for a right to counsel for tenants during eviction proceedings, both here in Connecticut and across the United States,” said Central CT DSA Chapter Co-Chair Alexander Kolokotronis. “In Connecticut, only 7% of tenants received legal representation, while 80% of landlords did. Evictions exacerbate a whole set of issues that upend an individual and family’s life. This includes causing job loss and homelessness, undermining children’s education, and limiting access to decent housing in the future. A right to counsel empowers tenants to defend their homes by utilizing the laws already on the books that are otherwise too obscure and arcane for an individual to use in their defense without legal representation. With passage of right to counsel in both chambers of the Connecticut General Assembly, we hope a robust right to counsel program in Connecticut can serve as a model for right to counsel in all 50 states, with the Eviction Prevention Act being a first significant step in initiating that.”
DeLauro reintroduced the Eviction Prevention Act following the Connecticut General Assembly’s overwhelming support for similar legislation at the state level.
The Eviction Prevention Act would allow the United States Attorney General (AG) to authorize $125 million in grants to states, counties, and cities to provide people with representation by an attorney in civil actions related to eviction if their income is lower than 125% of the Federal Poverty Level. Cities and states that have established a right to counsel would receive preference for additional funding. The bill would also allow the AG to collect evidence of eviction data and mandates a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report to Congress on the cost savings from providing representation by an attorney to renters in housing cases.