Oct 18, 2021 - News

Philadelphia to pilot Right to Counsel program this winter

Illustration of a pattern of gavels.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

A program to guarantee legal representation for low-income tenants in eviction court will pilot this winter with an expected $1 million worth of funding.

Driving the news: The Philadelphia City Council approved the first $100 million of the Neighborhood Preservation Initiative Bond last week, which secured the last of the funding expected for the Right to Counsel program for this year.

Why it matters: The vast majority of tenants in Philadelphia's eviction court don’t have a lawyer. Only 10% of tenants have representation in court, compared to 75% of landlords.

  • Before the pandemic, Philadelphia ranked fourth in the nation among large U.S cities for evictions, averaging 20,000 a year.

Details: The program is secured through part of the $3.8 million the city is dedicating to tenant representation programs.

  • Most of the funding comes from the city's general fund, with the rest from the NPI bond and the Division of Housing and Community Development.

Flashback: The Philadelphia City Council passed Right to Counsel in 2019, and it was scheduled to go into effect this year, but there was no funding allocated for it.

  • Before that, tenants facing eviction could seek the help of the Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project, which offers tenants’ rights workshops and some pro bono work for income-eligible clients.
  • PEPP is sharing the $3.8 million in funding with Right to Counsel.

What they're saying: Vik Patel, a housing lawyer with Community Legal Services, said the "disparity of representation exacerbates the power difference in the landlord-tenant relationship."

  • Councilmember Helen Gym, who introduced the law, said the city is fulfilling its promise to take evictions seriously.
  • "There is help so renters and families do not feel alone," Gym told Axios.

What's next: Gym said she wants to target ZIP codes with a high concentration of evictions to ensure the service is going where it is intended. But it's unclear how she will do that at this time.


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