December 4, 2020
Baltimore made history this week when Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young signed legislation that will make the city the 7th jurisdiction in the nation to provide a right to counsel for tenants in eviction cases.
Sponsored by Council President and Mayor-Elect Brandon Scott, the legislation passed the City Council unanimously in November and will help address Baltimore’s growing eviction crisis.
Landlords and the Court evicted more than 537 families from August through November alone, not including families illegally evicted by their landlords. “A right to counsel greatly increases the chance that families will remain in their homes and have their voices and concerns heard and addressed through the court system,” said Charisse Lue, attorney at the Public Justice Center.
Here’s how right to counsel will make an impact in Baltimore:
Address the power imbalance in eviction court
Right now, landlords are represented in 96% of cases in Baltimore, while tenants are represented in 1% of cases. Right to counsel will help ensure tenants have a lawyer by their side. Tiffany Ralph, secretary of the Bolton House Residents Association, said: “So many people we work with are scared to make demands on their landlord because the landlord may retaliate with an eviction action. Right to counsel gives support to residents who stand up for their right to live in safe, healthy housing.”
Keep people in their homes
Approximately 25% of evictions end with the family becoming homeless – a traumatic experience even before COVID-19. A study by Stout Risius Ross LLC (Stout), funded by the Abell Foundation, found that attorneys are successful in preventing disruptive displacement of Baltimore renters in 92% of the eviction cases they are involved in.
Address racial disparities
Like COVID-19, evictions have most impacted Black and brown families. A report by Tim Thomas, PhD, of the University of California at Berkeley’s Evictions Study and Urban Displacement Project shows that the number of Black women evicted is 3.9 times higher (296% more) than the number of white men evicted in Baltimore City. A right to counsel can help address these disparities.
Reduce costs for the City and State
Eviction and homelessness not only harm the people directly affected, but also increase costs to the City and State for shelter, Medicaid, school transportation, and foster care. According to Stout, an annual investment of $5.7 million in a right to counsel for lower income Baltimore tenants facing eviction would yield $35.6 million in benefits or costs avoided to the City and State.
Spearheaded by the Baltimore Renters United coalition, the right to counsel campaign was a success thanks to many advocates, city officials, and supporters like you! “We are grateful for the Council President and City Council’s strong support of this legislation, which will both provide protection to thousands of renters and save our city millions of dollars. It’s a win-win and we are pleased to see Mayor Young make history with his signature” said Molly Amster, Baltimore Director for Jews United for Justice and Baltimore Renters United Steering Committee member.
The Public Justice Center and members of Baltimore Renters United look forward to working with the Mayor-Elect and his new administration on a plan to identify funding sources and implement the right to counsel over the next four years. We have a long road ahead, but passage of this bill marks a major commitment by the City to providing for the housing stability and safety of residents.
Please join us in thanking Council President Brandon Scott and the City Council, Mayor Jack Young, and the following organizations that supported the bill:
Public Justice Center
Jews United for Justice
State’s Attorney for Baltimore City
Maryland Access to Justice Commission
Right to Housing Alliance
Homeless Persons Representation Project
Disability Rights Maryland
ACLU of Maryland
Bolton House Residents Association
Pro Bono Resource Center
Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition
Fair Development Roundtable
Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service
Park Heights Renaissance
Health Care for the Homeless
Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility
Medical-Legal Partnership Clinic at University of Maryland School of Law
Green & Healthy Homes Initiative
Civil Justice Network
Advocates for Children and Youth
Maryland Center on Economic Policy
Greater Baltimore Democratic Socialists of America
Fair Housing Action Center of Maryland
Baltimore Healthy Start Community Action Network
National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel
Social Work Community Outreach Services at University of Maryland School of Social Work
Beyond the Boundaries
Architects of Justice
St. Vincent DePaul Society of Baltimore