D.C. Council to consider free legal help for poor residents in housing cases

The bill would create a funding stream for the D.C. Bar Foundation, the nonprofit group that provides most legal aid to D.C. residents involved in civil cases.

News Story (District of Columbia)

Jasper Scherer
Washington Post
October 14, 2016

Tags: Civil Right to Counsel, Housing: Eviction

Organizations mentioned/involved: Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia


But the bill’s proponents say that existing services do not adequately address tenants’ needs. Last year, 94 percent of landlords were represented by counsel in cases filed in the Landlord and Tenant Branch of the D.C. Superior Court, according to data compiled by the D.C. Legal Aid Society. Tenants were represented in just 5 percent of contested cases — those that were not dismissed before the first court date.

“They are receiving unjust outcomes because they don’t have a lawyer by their side,” said Beth Harrison of the Legal Aid Society. “And that is what an infusion of money and lawyers can address.”

The legislation would allow providers of legal services, such as the Legal Aid Society, to apply for grants from the D.C. Bar Foundation to fund projects. One such effort is the Legal Aid Society’s Housing Right to Counsel Pilot Project. The program represents tenants who pay income-based rent in subsidized housing but face eviction, Harrison said.