The Economic Return of Providing Legal Representation to Low Income Tenants in Eviction Court
February 27, 2019
A diverse group of advocates, policy makers, public officials, and academics, as well as representatives of landlord associations and tenant organizations convened for the February Shared Prosperity roundtable to hear the results of a study on the cost-effectiveness of providing legal representation for tenants in eviction court. This report estimated that a dollar invested in such a program would save Philadelphia almost thirteen in shelter and health costs for individuals who would otherwise be disruptively displaced.
CEO’s Executive Director, Mitchell Little and Eva Gladstein, Deputy Managing Director for Health and Human Services, opened the round table with a reminder of what the stakes were. Forty seven percent (47%) of Philadelphia residents are renters – a number which increased 10% after the 2008 financial crisis and has not budged since – and now evictions are on the rise. Research by Matthew Desmond and others has found that evictions are not just a symptom of poverty but causes it too, leading families already in economic turmoil to seek shelter and support from overburdened friends, family, and city shelters. Expanding legal representation for tenants is one of seventeen recommendations made by Mayor Kenney’s Taskforce on Eviction Prevention and Response. This work, if undertaken, would build upon the foundation laid by the Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project, which provides some same-day assistance to people in eviction court.
The Economic Return of Providing Counsel in Philadelphia Eviction Cases for Low Income Tenants (also referred to as “the Stout Report”), was commissioned by the Philadelphia Bar Association to see if a solution like New York’s current Universal Access to Counsel program would have similar benefits for Philadelphia. Ethan D. Fogel of Dechert LLP co-presented the findings along with Neil Steinkamp of Stout Risius Ross LLC, author of the report. The two spoke about the report’s conclusions: that having legal council would drastically decrease the number of low-income individuals who undergo disruptive displacement because of eviction. By investing $3.5 million in legal counsel, the city could serve 4,400 low-income clients facing eviction and save $45 million in shelter, medical, and other associated social service costs.
Rasheedah Philips of Community Legal Services of Philadelphia then looked at what legal representation for low-income tenants might mean for Philadelphia. She emphasized the importance of home for low-income families. “It’s the only place, they can go after they’ve had a hard day.” She discussed how eviction is often a racial and a gender issue, with a greater proportion of evictions occurring to single, female-headed households of color. And, as a member of the Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project, how the current free assistance available to these families is not nearly enough to keep up with demand.
Attendees had a chance to respond to both keynote speakers. Some voiced concerns about how the most vulnerable would find out about these services. Others brought up suggestions that mirrored other recommendations of the Eviction Task Force, including greater education about eviction resources for both landlords and tenants, and greater opportunities for mediation between landlord and tenant before the eviction filing occurs.
Representatives of local landlord associations voiced their concerns that such assistance would be too favorable to tenants at the expense of landlords, and that this might discourage landlords from operating properties in low-income areas. The speakers responded, saying that landlords had something to gain too; that having lawyers on both sides made coming to a stable solution for both parties faster and more realizable.
If you would like more information about the issues raised in the February roundtable, you can download the Stout report and the Report of the Mayor’s Task Force on Eviction Prevention and Response at the links provided below.