U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro came to City Hall last week to tout her new plan for tenant protection — a bill providing legal representation in eviction cases for those earning 125 percent of the federal poverty level or less.
The bill would authorize $125 million in grants to various local authorities in order to rectify the disparity in legal representation between landlords and tenants in eviction cases. At last week’s press conference, DeLauro stressed that the two parties are near opposites in terms of representation — nine out of 10 landlords have attorneys in eviction proceedings while only one of every 10 tenants can say the same.
“It’s about fairness,” DeLauro said. “It’s about equality under the law. Fighting an eviction without a lawyer is a rigged game.”
The numbers, she continued, speak for themselves. DeLauro cited a study that looked at more than 100,000 eviction cases between 2012 and 2017 and showed a clear difference in outcomes for those with representation — who won about 95 percent of the time — and those without, who succeeded in 22 percent of cases.
Princeton University’s Eviction Lab found that the problem is concentrated in Connecticut, which is home to four of the five New England cities that made the study’s top 100 highest eviction rates list. New Haven’s rate is 4.05 percent; Bridgeport’s, 5.03; Hartford’s, 5.73; and Waterbury’s, 6.1.
“It is troubling and quite frankly embarrassing to see such high eviction rates in Connecticut’s major cities,” DeLauro said of the study. “I believe what it demonstrates is how this crisis is really unfolding.”
Yonatan E. Zamir, an attorney with the New Haven Legal Assistance Association, spoke at City Hall in support of DeLauro’s bill and has advocated for similar policies at the state level, according to the New Haven Register. Such policies are necessary, he said, given the resource constraints that hamper his organization’s ability to serve the many people awaiting assistance in housing court. Zamir is one of 23 attorneys employed at NHLAA.
Elicker underscored the severity of the housing crisis by offering a sobering statistic: 41 percent of New Haven residents are rent burdened, a classification for those who spend over 30 percent of their incomes on rent and utilities. While he did not say whether his administration has plans to carry out DeLauro’s vision on a local level, he said that such a policy is under consideration and praised the bill as an important step at the national scale.
“There’s no excuse why we as a country should sit idly by while bad-apple landlords are taking advantage of families that are struggling to get by,” Elicker said. “And goodness knows in New Haven we have a lot of experience with that.”
The Eviction Prevention Act currently has nine co-sponsors.