Philadelphia tenants with low incomes who are facing eviction and live in parts of Port Richmond, Kensington, Germantown, and East Germantown can get free legal representation starting next week.
On Feb. 1, the city is expanding its Right to Counsel initiative, which /www.inquirer.com/real-estate/housing/philadelphia-evictions-free-legal-representation-rental-assistance-20220131.html">started last February as a pilot program for tenants living in zip codes 19139 and 19121 in West and North Philadelphia. Tenants with attorneys are much more likely to avoid evictions and to negotiate more favorable terms in agreements with landlords. But four out of five Philadelphia tenants facing eviction don’t have a lawyer, largely due to cost.
Now, tenants in the 19134 and 19144 zip codes, which includes small sections of West Mount Airy and East Falls, can access lawyers for free. Renter households are eligible if they make at or below /www.uscis.gov/i-942p">200% of the federal poverty level — $29,160 for one person and $49,720 for a household of three.
Eligible renters have the right to legal counsel for eviction cases, lease terminations, and terminations of Philadelphia Housing Authority housing subsidies. Renters are entitled to free legal representation for both court proceedings and administrative proceedings, such as cases before the /www.phila.gov/departments/fair-housing-commission/tenant-protections/unfair-rental-practices/">Fair Housing Commission.
“It is essential that tenants be able to remain in their homes so they can maintain a sense of stability for not only their families, but ultimately the entire community,” City Councilmember Cindy Bass said in a statement. “Being able to access free of charge the same legal representation as the city’s more monied residents ensures their rights will no longer be jeopardized just because they can’t afford counsel.”
During the last year, 38% of tenants in the pilot zip codes received representation in Municipal Court, according to city officials. Citywide, about 21% of tenants had representation. Tenants with lawyers through the Right to Counsel program showed up to court — avoiding automatic rulings against them. And they were more likely to enter into agreements that allowed them more time to move or arrange payment plans to catch up on back rent.
/www.inquirer.com/real-estate/housing/right-to-counsel-bill-helen-gym-city-council-tenants-eviction-lawyer-20191114.html">City Council passed Right to Counsel legislation in November 2019, and the initiative is one of several programs Philadelphia has rolled out over the last few years to help tenants facing evictions.
Landlords must file for mediation with tenants through the /eviction-diversion.phila.gov/#/">city’s Eviction Diversion Program in most cases before filing for eviction in court. The program /www.inquirer.com/real-estate/housing/eviction-diversion-program-philadelphia-mediation-renter-landlord-20201204.html">launched in September 2020. The Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project, started in 2018, is a collaborative of organizations that provides resources for tenants at risk of eviction.
“Right to Counsel, along with the Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project and our Eviction Diversion Program, has made Philadelphia a national leader in preventing homelessness and displacement,” Kadeem Morris, divisional supervising attorney in the housing unit of Community Legal Services, said in a statement. “These programs have kept people safe at home during the pandemic and stabilized families in crisis, and have also leveled the playing field to ensure tenants have access to justice.”
Zip codes eligible for free legal representation were chosen based on total number of evictions, rate of evictions, and the shares of families living in poverty, according to city officials. The city plans to expand Right to Counsel to additional zip codes each year as long as it receives additional funding. Services are included in Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project’s budget.
Tenants who want free legal counsel can call the Philly Tenant Hotline at 267-443-2500 or visit /www.phillytenant.org/">phillytenant.org. The organizations providing legal representation and support are Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, SeniorLAW Center, Legal Clinic for the Disabled, Philadelphia VIP, and the Tenant Union Representative Network.
The city and the Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project are hosting a resource fair in both new zip codes next month to spread the word about the expansion of Right to Counsel. Tenants can sign up for the initiative and get connected to other services, such as utility assistance.
The 19144 resource fair is scheduled forSaturday, Feb. 4., from 1 to 4 p.m. at PA CareerLink NW at 5847 Germantown Ave.
A resource fair in Kensington for the 19134 zip code will be held Saturday, Feb. 11, but the city has not chosen a time or location.
These programs have kept people safe at home during the pandemic and stabilized families in crisis, and have also leveled the playing field to ensure tenants have access to justice.
Kadeem Morris, Community Legal Services