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November 13, 2018

Philadelphia Bar Association Calls for Philadelphia to Fund Legal Counsel for Low-Income Tenants Facing Eviction

The Philadelphia Bar Association today called for the City of Philadelphia to provide legal counsel to low-income tenants at risk of eviction, which in turn would enable the city to avoid the high costs that the city incurs as a result of their evictions.

A new study, Economic Return on Investment of Providing Counsel in Philadelphia Eviction Cases for Low-Income Tenants, which was commissioned by the Association and conducted by Chicago-based Stout Risius Ross, LLC (Stout), estimates that spending $3.5 million annually to provide legal counsel for low-income tenants at risk of eviction would save the city approximately $45.2 million annually. The study concludes that for every dollar the city spends on providing legal representation to low-income tenants, the city will receive a benefit of at least $12.74.

After analyzing Philadelphia Municipal Court data, right-to-counsel studies and its own independent research, Stout determined:

  • Both the city and private residential tenants would benefit significantly if the city provided counsel to tenants in eviction cases
  • From 2010 to 2015, approximately 1 in 14 Philadelphia tenants had an eviction complaint filed against them
  • Philadelphia’s eviction rate in 2016 was 3.48 percent of all tenants – about 150 percent of the national eviction rate
  • From 2007 to 2016, counsel represented landlords in approximately 80 percent of eviction cases and counsel represented tenants in approximately 7 percent of eviction cases.

Stout determined that unrepresented tenants are disruptively displaced due to eviction in approximately 78 percent of cases, as compared with represented tenants, who are disruptively displaced due to eviction in only approximately 5 percent of cases. By being represented, 14,418 low-income individuals each year would avoid being disruptively displaced.

The study discusses how evictions lead to job loss, poor performance by children in schools, physical and mental health issues, increased shelter costs for the newly homeless, higher rates of juvenile delinquency, family instability, other social problems, and an increased administrative burden on the court system. The city and its taxpayers have to absorb most of the costs of these problems, which could be avoided by providing tenants with counsel and reducing the eviction rate.

“Investing in legal counsel for low-income tenants facing eviction is one of the most effective measures to prevent evictions and homelessness, which in turn will result in significant cost savings and benefits for our community,” said Association Chancellor Mary F. Platt.

New York City enacted legislation last year providing universal access to legal counsel to income-eligible tenants facing eviction, and San Francisco recently voted to provide a right to counsel for all tenants facing eviction regardless of income. Other cities, including Washington D.C., Boston and Baltimore, have created various forms of right-to-counsel pilot projects for low-income tenants facing eviction. Plans are underway in Newark to provide Newark's low-income residents with access to free legal representation in landlord-tenant disputes.

“Philadelphia should do the same,” Platt said. “The Stout study provides economic justification for providing legal counsel to low-income tenants in Philadelphia in eviction cases because counsel will help to prevent homelessness and its costly consequences.”

“The Philadelphia Bar Association is extremely grateful to Stout for producing this study on a pro bono basis and to Ethan D. Fogel, a partner at Dechert LLP, and other members of the Association’s Civil Gideon and Access to Justice Task Force for assisting Stout in conducting the study,” said Platt. Stout is a premier global advisory firm that specializes in investment banking, valuation and financial opinions, and dispute consulting. The study’s author, Neil Steinkamp, is a strategic consultant with expertise and experience involving a variety of socio-economic issues. The Association’s Civil Gideon and Access to Justice Task Force was created in 2009 to develop and implement strategies to address the civil justice gap crisis and improve access to justice in Philadelphia in the short term, while working toward the implementation of a right to counsel for low-income people in eviction and other civil cases in which critical human needs are at stake, noted Platt.

The Stout report can be found on the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Website.

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