Collaboration and Close Document Review Critical to Preventing Illegal Evictions and Homelessness

The City of Newark is addressing eviction with strategies to protect families and communities.

Khabirah H. Myers, Esq. is the Coordinator of the City of Newark’s Office of Tenant Legal Services, a new office located in the City’s Department of Economic and Housing Development (EHD). Eviction strongly correlates with poverty and economically devastated neighborhoods and can often lead to homelessness.

I had the opportunity to hear Ms. Myers present as part of a workshop panel at the Housing and Community Development Network’s annual Under One Roof conference on October 18, 2019.

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 response is in light of the increased development of market rate housing throughout Newark. The Office works to protect low-income tenants, with gross (before taxes) household incomes of 200% or less of the current federal poverty level. Households must be facing eviction or a bona fide threat of eviction.

OTLS attorneys provide two types of legal services: 1. Brief services when an eligible applicant is merely given legal advice because the applicant is either capable of resolving their legal dispute with only the advice of counsel, has no viable legal defense, or because the closeness of the applicant’s legal proceeding does not give the Office enough time to secure an attorney who can provide the applicant with full legal representation.

And 2. Full legal representation that minimally includes preparation for and appearances at court and/or administrative hearings/meetings, and trail-level court applications, but excludes any applications to the Appellate Division.

I spoke to Ms. Myers recently and she told me that collaboration is critical to the work of the OTLS. She and her team work internally with the City’s Zoning, Rent Control, and Code-Enforcement offices.

Externally, OTLS collaborates with multiple nonprofit entities, including those that serve immigrant tenants of low-income. Whatever their status under United States immigration laws, an immigrant is a “person” and courts of the United States have long recognized all immigrants — including undocumented immigrants, as “persons” who are guaranteed Constitutional protections.

OTLS attorneys closely analyze all documentation associated with a tenant’s housing. Ms. Myers has found that very close reading of documents related to eviction is a critical requirement in her work and has prevented many evictions.

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 and 796 households (11.8% of the total number of households counted) in New Jersey gave eviction or risk of eviction as the cause of their homelessness. Monarch Housing coordinates NJCounts, the annual point in time count of the homeless in New Jersey.