A Down Payment: The Journey to Adequate Funding for Tenant Lawyers

The fight for adequate funding for tenant lawyers in New York City’s housing court has been a long and ongoing battle. Lawyers representing tenants facing eviction have been advocating for a substantial increase in funding to ensure the Right to Counsel program lives up to its name. While the city’s budget for the upcoming year includes a boost in funding for legal services providers, it falls significantly short of the approximately $350 million that advocates have deemed necessary. In this article, we will explore the challenges faced by the Right to Counsel program, the current state of funding, and the ongoing efforts to secure the resources needed to protect vulnerable tenants.

The Right to Counsel Program and Its Challenges

Established in 2017, New York City’s Right to Counsel program was hailed as the first in the nation to provide “universal access” to eviction defense for eligible tenants. The program aimed to ensure that low-income tenants facing eviction had access to legal representation, leveling the playing field between tenants and landlords. However, as demand for the program increased, it became clear that the existing funding was insufficient to meet the needs of eligible tenants.

Insufficient Funding and Growing Demand

The Right to Counsel program is currently funded at around $112 million, according to a City Limits review. While this funding has helped many low-income tenants stay in their homes, it was never intended to cover every eligible tenant. The COVID-19 pandemic, which accelerated the program’s expansion, exposed the limitations of the existing funding. This year, there has been a significant increase in eviction filings compared to 2022, putting additional strain on the program.

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The Call for Deeper Investment

Tenant advocates and legal service providers argue that deeper investment in the Right to Counsel program would ultimately save the city money and prevent violent and disruptive evictions. Under the current contracts, civil legal service providers are expected to represent approximately 35,000 households per year. However, lawyers predict that an additional $350 million in funding would not only allow the program to represent twice as many households but also provide better salaries for existing attorneys and support staff.

The New York City Budget and Funding Boost

New York City’s budget for the year starting July 1 includes $40.6 million in new funding for legal services providers. Out of this amount, $20 million will be allocated for legal assistance in housing court, while the remaining $20.6 million will go to public defenders in criminal court. However, it remains unclear how much of the new funding will specifically go towards eviction defense for low-income tenants.

Inadequate Funding and Urgent Calls for Action

Advocates and tenant coalitions have deemed the new funding inadequate and are urging the courts to slow down eviction cases to protect tenants from facing eviction without legal representation. Susanna Blankley, coordinator with the Right to Counsel Coalition, emphasized the need for the courts to uphold the Right to Counsel program, stating that the current situation highlights the program’s necessity more than ever before.

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Baseline Funding and Future Sustainability

As part of the budget plan, $30.6 million in legal services funding, including $20 million for housing court matters, will be baselined to maintain the boost into the future. While this provides some stability, it falls short of the additional funding needed to address the growing demand for eviction defense. Tenant advocates continue to push for increased funding to adequately support the Right to Counsel program.

The Role of City Council and Mayor Adams

The negotiations and discussions surrounding the budget plan involved City Council and Mayor Eric Adams. The City Council called for an additional $195 million for civil and criminal public interest lawyers, including a tentative demand of $70 million for the Right to Counsel program. However, given the budget constraints and the mayor’s call for fiscal restraint, the final agreed-upon funding falls short of these demands.

A Significant Win Amidst Challenges

Despite the challenges faced during the budget cycle, Councilmember Shaun Abreu, a former tenant lawyer himself, considers the secured funds as a significant win. He commends the efforts of the City Council to prioritize enhancements despite the difficult circumstances. Speaker Adams also acknowledges the challenges faced during the negotiations, highlighting the tension over proposed cuts to important programs.

A Down Payment for Adequate Representation

Rosalind Black, citywide housing director at Legal Services NYC, views the budget boost as a down payment for what is needed to effectively represent tenants at risk of eviction. While she acknowledges the council’s efforts, she emphasizes that the funding is still insufficient to hire and retain the necessary staff to expand the universe of represented tenants. More certainty around the numbers is required to determine if additional staff can be hired.

Additional Funding Sources and Discretionary Funds

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Apart from the city budget, there are other potential sources of funding for the Right to Counsel program. The state budget includes $10 million for eviction defense in New York City, providing an additional avenue for funding. Additionally, the City Council has discretionary funds known as Schedule C funds, which can be allocated to nonprofits and community groups. This year’s breakdown includes smaller-scale investments in eviction defense work, including legal assistance for the working poor.

The Importance of Additional Funding Sources

While the city budget is a crucial component of funding for the Right to Counsel program, additional funding from the state and discretionary funds can provide much-needed support. These additional sources of funding can help bridge the gap and provide the necessary resources to expand the program’s reach and better protect vulnerable tenants.


The fight for adequate funding for tenant lawyers in New York City’s housing court continues. While there is a boost in funding in the upcoming city budget, it falls significantly short of what advocates have deemed necessary. The Right to Counsel program plays a vital role in ensuring that low-income tenants have access to legal representation and are not unjustly evicted. It is crucial that ongoing efforts to secure additional funding from various sources are successful to meet the growing demand and protect vulnerable tenants in New York City.

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