Statement of City Bar President John S. Kiernan on the Initiative to Provide Counsel in NYC Housing Court

The New York City Bar Association applauds the initiative announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito that will provide access to an attorney for low-income residents facing eviction in New York City Housing Court.

This groundbreaking initiative, proposed by Council Members Mark Levine and Vanessa Gibson, marks the growing recognition that a right to counsel should not be reserved for criminal matters only, as the stakes in civil matters, such as the loss of one’s home, can be among the highest one may face.

The initiative, which should serve as a model for other cities across the nation, will help level the playing field between tenants, the vast majority of whom have historically been unrepresented in eviction proceedings, and landlords, who are almost without exception represented by counsel.

All signs indicate that the initiative could save tax dollars as well. Last year, at the request of the City Bar’s Pro Bono and Legal Services Committee, a study done pro bono by Stout, Risius & Ross found that providing free legal counsel to low-income tenants facing eviction could save the city hundreds of millions of dollars.

Our gratitude and congratulations go to Steven Banks, Commissioner of the City’s Human Resources Administration; Jordan M. Dressler at the HRA’s Office of Civil Justice; the members of the Right to Counsel Coalition, which the City Bar has supported and worked with, for their tireless efforts over the years to achieve this outcome; and the City Bar’s Housing Court and Pro Bono and Legal Services Committees, chaired by Anna E. Florek-Scarfutti and Alison King respectively, for leading the Association’s advocacy efforts on this matter.