Housing In Brief: Will Philly Be the Second Big City to Pass Right-to-Counsel?

Philadelphia Councilwoman Helen Gym has introduced a bill that would guarantee representation in housing court for households under 200 percent of the federal poverty line, PlanPhilly reports.

News Story (Pennsylvania)

May 17, 2019

Tags: Housing: Eviction, Housing: Right to Counsel

Organizations mentioned/involved: Philadelphia Bar Association


Gym has previously made strides toward leveling the playing field for landlords and tenants: securing $500,000 for renter assistance two years ago, for example. PlanPhilly says that most of the funding Gym has secured funds non-lawyer tenant assistance, such as a help hotline and a staffed desk at housing court. The Philadelphia Bar Association estimated it will cost at least $3.5 million to provide legal aid to all low-income tenants, but would save the city at least $45.2 million in costs related to homelessness and displacement.

Gym is asking for $1.5 million in this year’s budget, to slowly ramp up the program. If passed, Philly will be the second large city to offer right-to-counsel for low-income tenants. New York City launched such a program for tenants in 20 zip codes, and by 2022, the program will be citywide. Advocates say that the program needs reform, however, describing chaotic scenesat housing court and saying that many tenants don’t learn they have a right to an attorney before the day they arrive in court.