The Philadelphia City Council committee on Law and Government approved bill 190386 Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019. The bill will have its first reading at the next session of council.
If enacted, the bill would provide legal counsel to low-income renters who are facing eviction. To qualify, a renter’s income must not exceed 200% of the federal poverty guideline, which is $12,490 per year for individuals and $25,750 for a family of four.
According to information released by the office of Councilmember Helen Gym, who is the sponsor of the bill, Philadelphia landlords attempt to evict 20,000 renters per year. In those eviction proceedings, more than 80% of landlords have legal representation, while only 11% of renters are able to secure legal help.
In her opening remarks, Gym said Philadelphia ranks fourth in the nation for evictions, which disproportionately affect black women, many of whom are single heads of households taking care of children.
“Evictions cause a cascade of problems,” Gym said. “They disrupt adults from working and children from learning. Children are twice as likely to enter foster care if they experience and eviction.”
Eva Gladstein, deputy managing director for Health and Human Services, said the root causes of eviction are poverty and racial injustice.
“When you look at eviction rates across the city, they tend to be much higher in African American neighborhoods,” Gladstein said.
Gladstein said housing stability is one of the most important factors enabling people to increase their income, save money, and eventually move out of poverty.
“Without adequate housing, it is virtually impossible [to move out of poverty],” Gladstein said. “[Housing] is such an important determinant of people’s income, but also their health and wellness.”
According to Councilmember Curtis Jones, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the city is over $1,100 and increasing.
“It’s good that evictions are going down,” Jones said. “But if we don’t put things in place [like counsel legislation], eventually that wave of increase within the average median income is going to impact rents for people in the private market and some of our seniors.”
Jones said some retirees had to move in with their children because rent and food costs were rising while pension were not.
Gladstein said it cost about $45 per day to house someone in a shelter, which is significantly more expensive than helping someone pay back rent.
Ethan Fogel, a law partner at the firm of Dechert LLP, said without legal representation, families lose in landlord-tenant court 78% of the time.
“With representation, they [only lose] about 5% of the cases,” Fogel said. “Legal representation dramatically reduces the crippling disruption our residents face.”
Fogel said for every dollar spent by the City on legal representation for those about to be evicted, it would realize $12 in cost savings when considering shelter costs.
“By spending $3.5 million on legal representation for tenants at or below the federal poverty level, the City would save over $45 million,” Fogel said.
After the meeting, Gym said when an eviction notice is filed against a tenant, they will go to landlord-tenant court, where tenants would find a help desk where they could seek assistance.
“You could talk about whether you qualify for free legal representation,” Gym said. “The courts have been a great partner on this.”
Gym said the courts have ruled a landlord can only file for an eviction if they have received a legal rental license for one full year and do not have outstanding Licenses and Inspections violations.
Lawrence McGlynn is a recent graduate of Temple University’s Klein College of Media and Communication where he earned a Master’s in Journalism. For the next several months he will be reporting out of City Hall on various council and committee meetings, the city’s budget, and how these impact the daily lives of Philadelphians.
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