As residential eviction proceedings in New York City skyrocket, renters are left without legal representation

The longstanding dearth of affordable housing in New York City, which has been exacerbated by the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on working class families, has now reached a new level of crisis, with hundreds of thousands facing eviction from their homes.

People from a coalition of housing justice groups hold signs protesting evictions during a news conference outside the Statehouse, Friday, July 30, 2021, in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

The temporary moratoria on evictions, implemented during the initial waive of the pandemic, have long since been revoked. The federal ban was lifted by a Supreme Court ruling last summer and New York state’s ban ended on January 15. Now, the continuing effects of the pandemic—the plague of unemployment, low wages and mounting medical bills with little or no insurance—combined with skyrocketing inflation are creating conditions in which growing numbers of New Yorkers cannot afford to pay rent and are therefore facing eviction.

The Community Service Society of New York reports that 685,000 renters owe a staggering total of $3.3 billion in back rent. There are currently more than 220,000 pending eviction cases in the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn alone. And the rate is accelerating.

There were approximately 6,000 new cases filed during February. In March, the monthly total grew to more than 7,000 new cases, an increase of 17 percent. The avalanche of cases has grown to such a degree that the existing mechanism to provide legal representation to those families already facing destitution is being overwhelmed.

In New York, such services are provided by three legal firms under contract to the city’s Office of Civil Justice. One of these, the Legal Aid Society, has just announced that it cannot take on 130 new cases in Manhattan and 100 in Brooklyn this month. Legal Services NYC, another group, is unable to take on any additional cases in Brooklyn. This is on top of hundreds of cases that these firms have already refused to accept in Queens and the Bronx. There is every reason to believe that the situation will only worsen.