Power and Possibility in the Era of Right to Counsel, Robust Rent Laws & COVID-19
Written By: Erica Braudy and Kim Hawkins
New York City (NYC) finds itself in an unprecedented housing crisis as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic reveals with devastating force that safe, sustainable and affordable housing is both a human right and a public health necessity. The profound humanitarian and economic devastation of COVID-19 puts millions of New Yorkers at risk of eviction—especially those within Black and Latinx communities. In addition, the pandemic hit just as the legal landscape for tenants was transformed through landmark legislation ensuring the Right to Counsel in eviction proceedings and sweeping reforms of New York’s rent laws. The unparalleled COVID-19 pandemic, the influx of hundreds of new tenant attorneys resulting from the Right to Counsel, and the robust rent law reforms fundamentally alter the role and powerful potential of housing advocacy and the very function of NYC’s Housing Court. These three forces provide an opportunity for housing attorneys representing low-income tenants to imagine new and creative ways to provide housing security and build tenant power.
This Article canvasses the fundamental shifts in the NYC housing landscape and the movement to expand tenants’ rights. It urges lawmakers to take bold action to avoid an eviction pandemic and shield tenants from homelessness and crushing debt. Next, it lays a blueprint for housing attorneys, both experienced and novice, to aggressively use the new tenant-friendly rent laws, creatively maximize underused tools, and leverage their collective strength to re-envision housing as a human right. The combination of the Right to Counsel, which has filled the ranks with passionate tenant attorneys, an empowered and progressive state legislature, and a vibrant tenants’ movement has created a powerful force to demand comprehensive and far-reaching housing and racial justice for all New Yorkers and redefine the housing world that lies beyond the virus.