Housing Right to Counsel Project: Helping Residents Maintain Safe, Affordable Housing
Legal Aid is proud to lead a coalition of legal services providers and law firms across the District that are part of the Housing Right to Counsel Project. The Project works to ensure low-income residents can get the legal support they need to maintain safe, affordable housing.
About the Housing Right to Counsel Project
The Housing Right to Counsel Project helps low-income residents with housing subsidies facing eviction across the District access free legal services. Working together, the Project’s goal is to lift up our community by ensuring clients of the Project are guaranteed free lawyers, enabling them to access tenant protections to which they are entitled, and increasing their ability to stay in their homes.
To restart the program, legal services providers will send letters guaranteeing counsel to one out of every six tenants with subsidies against whom a publicly available eviction case has been filed and scheduled for November and December 2023.
The Project specifically pairs tenants facing eviction with a free lawyer from one of 19 participating law firms across the District, as well as pro bono programs of the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia and the federal government. Each law firm is partnered with a legal services provider specializing in eviction defense to provide expert mentorship in these cases.
Through this Project, attorneys are helping clients assert their rights, access the tools to stay in their homes, and help prevent the harmful ripple effects of eviction while advancing racial and housing justice.
How to access legal services through the Project
- Tenants who are selected for the program and meet the basic eligibility criteria are guaranteed a lawyer as long as they connect with one of the participating legal services providers directly or call the Landlord Tenant Legal Assistance Network (202-780-2575), a joint hotline operated by the providers, before their first court hearing. If you received a notice that you are selected for the Project, please make sure you connect with one of the participating legal services providers or call the hotline as soon as possible.
- If you are a District tenant in need of legal services, related to housing or other challenges, please click here to learn how to contact us via phone, email, or walk-in visit to one of our offices.
Why the Project is needed right now
There is a significant, growing demand for legal services to help protect residents from eviction. Housing displacement is currently at record levels, resulting in increased evictions and skyrocketing demand for legal services. And low-income Black and Brown residents are bearing the brunt of DC’s housing affordability crisis.
- Scheduled evictions in DC have increased 250% between January 2022 and January 2023. But fewer than 15% of tenants at eviction hearings have legal representation, while 95% of landlords have legal representation.
- Tens of thousands of low-income District residents spend at least half of their income on rent, the DC Housing Authority’s waitlists to access housing vouchers and public housing have been closed since 2013, and in 2023, DC exhausted the $43 million allocated for emergency rental assistance in less than six months – all making it more challenging for low-income residents to afford homes.
- On top of all this, as the District faces the end of pandemic-era relief for low-income families – including a moratorium on evictions – many residents now face landlords looking to push them out of their homes. Too often they use malicious – and sometimes illegal – tactics to accomplish that goal.
By providing critical legal support, we can help tackle the housing affordability crisis by breaking down the systemic barriers that have led to generational racial inequities in housing in the District.
Who is eligible for the Project
The Project specifically provides legal services for low-income residents with housing subsidies facing eviction across the District.
Housing subsidies are one of the few tools in place to address the housing affordability crisis as they help District residents who would otherwise be pushed out by rising costs in the District.
These subsidies, which provide critical stability, are at risk for residents who face eviction. If residents living in a subsidized unit are evicted, it becomes functionally impossible for them to access a subsidy again, forcing them into homelessness. If someone using a housing voucher is evicted from a rental unit, they can be at risk of their subsidy being terminated. On top of that, the harmful ripple effects of eviction are severe and can cause residents to lose their possessions, their jobs, access to their children’s schools, and their community and support networks in their neighborhoods.
How we know this program will work
We know housing right to counsel programs work because we have seen them work before. Between 2016 and 2019, more than 300 District residents received a lawyer through the Housing Right to Counsel Project. The Project proved successful. Compared to a control group, tenants who were contacted and helped through the Project were 16 times more likely to challenge an eviction and eight times less likely to face an eviction judgment.
During the pandemic, the eviction moratorium drastically reduced eviction filings. After the end of that moratorium, combined with other factors, there is now an even greater need for the Project to help residents stay in safe, affordable housing, and prevent harmful consequences of eviction.
Now, the Project is restarting and rebuilding to help even more residents.
As attorneys and legal services providers, we understand that everyone should have a right to access legal support. But far too often that isn’t the reality.
We are proud to work closely with legal services providers and law firms to help offer free counsel to residents facing housing instability, address some of the inequities that exist in the District, and prove that access to an attorney shouldn’t only be available to those who can afford it.
We greatly appreciate the support of legal service providers and law firms across DC that are part of this Project, as well as the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia and the federal government, including:
- Legal services providers: Legal Aid DC, Bread for the City, Legal Counsel for the Elderly, Neighborhood Legal Services Program, Rising for Justice, and the DC Bar Pro Bono Center, with support from the DC Council, DC Access to Justice Commission, and the DC Bar Foundation.
- Law firms: Alston & Bird, ArentFox Schiff, Arnold & Porter, Beveridge & Diamond, Blank Rome, Cleary Gottlieb, Covington, Crowell, Dechert, DLA Piper, Hogan Lovells, Hunton Andrews Kurth, Jenner & Block, Latham & Watkins, Morgan Lewis, Sidley Austin, Skadden, and Steptoe.