Federal Legislation Introduced to Provide Free Assistance to Tenants Facing Eviction Legal Assistance

Areas With High Eviction Rates and Strong Tenants’ Rights Would be Prioritized

Eviction strongly correlates with poverty and economically devastated neighborhoods and can often lead to homelessness.

On February 13, 2020, Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) and House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) introduced the “Legal Assistance to Prevent Evictions Act.”  The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) reports that the proposed legislation would establish a grant program to provide free legal assistance to households facing eviction.  The assistance would target households with incomes less than 135% of the federal poverty guidelines or that are rent cost-burdened regardless of income.
This bill is the latest in a series of proposals to address the eviction crisis. Nonprofit organizations and government entities with experience providing no-cost legal assistance to low-income renter households would be eligible to apply for grants. 
Preference would be given to applicants:
  • Who propose using grant funds in areas with high eviction rates or where government entities have laws and regulations promoting tenants’ rights; and 
  • With demonstrated experience providing legal services in eviction cases, particularly for people with limited English proficiency or people with disabilities.

In New Jersey, there are existing efforts to prevent eviction.  As one example, the City of Newark is addressing eviction with strategies to protect families and communities.

The Office of Tenant Legal Services (OTLS) is a resource created for Newark’s low-income tenants in response to multiple factors, including Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka’s efforts to curb the upswing of unwarranted evictions in Newark.  This post does not intent to speculate as to what type of applications would be funded through this proposed funding.  But the City of Newark does provide an  example of no-cost legal assistance being provided to low-income renter households.  

NJCounts 2019 asked households experiencing homelessness on the night of January 22, 2019, to share the primary factor that contributed to or caused their homelessness.  Almost 12%, 796 households, of the total number of households counted in New Jersey indicated that eviction or risk of eviction was  the cause of their homelessness. Monarch Housing coordinates NJCounts, the annual point in time count of the homeless in New Jersey.