FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
APRIL 19, 2021
Contacts: CT Fair Housing Center: Sarah White, (860) 263-0726, firstname.lastname@example.org
Central CT DSA: Luke Melonakos-Harrison (760) 532-4808, email@example.com
Connecticut Voters Support a Right to Counsel for Tenants in Eviction
Federal Relief Money Can Fund Connecticut’s Right to Counsel Program
New polling in the Appeal shows that 2/3 of Connecticut voters support a statewide right to counsel program for tenants, a proven eviction prevention measure that Connecticut can fund for the next three and a half years using federal relief funding.
Data for Progress and The Lab found that “Sixty-seven percent of Connecticut voters—including 81 percent of Democrats, 67 percent of independents, and 51 percent of Republicans—would back the creation of a state program that provides lawyers to tenants facing eviction, with support cutting across age, gender, education, and racial demographic categories.” Polling was conducted of more than 700 likely Connecticut voters between April 9 and April 14.
The Connecticut Fair Housing Center, along with more than 40 other community organizations, has backed H.B. 6531, legislation that would guarantee legal representation for tenants facing eviction. Eight cities have created right to counsel programs for tenants, and two other states are on the verge of creating statewide programs, as the nation—and Connecticut—face an unprecedent surge in evictions as a result of the pandemic. Jurisdictions that create right to counsel programs see reductions in evictions and forced displacement of tenants.
“Tenants in Connecticut who are represented by an attorney are significantly more likely to keep their homes and avoid homelessness compared to those without legal representation,” according to Salmun Kazerounian, a staff attorney at the Center, who has analyzed past eviction data. Fewer than 7% of tenants have legal representation compared to 80% of landlords.
Carrie, a tenant who went through the eviction process without a lawyer, supports a right to counsel: “Without legal representation, I felt like no one was there to help me. If I did have a lawyer, I would have gotten better results and a better outcome. At the end of the day, the landlord would have had more respect for me.”
The Center’s tenant organizer, Shaznene Hussain, speaks to many tenants who are “scrambling to navigate a complicated legal process alone, under threat of losing their home in a matter of a few days, while their landlords are represented by attorneys who are expert at navigating the process. Tenants feel intimidated and unsure of how to advocate for themselves to the full extent the law allows.”
“Legal representation prevents the collateral consequences of evictions including its effect on jobs, children’s education, families’ physical and mental health, and families’ future access to decent housing. Funding legal representation saves the state money in the downstream costs of eviction and homelessness, savings 2 to 12 times greater than the investment,” says eviction prevention attorney Melissa Marichal.
Connecticut will receive than $2.6 billion in federal relief funding, which can be used to fund who H.B. 6531’s statewide right to counsel program through the end of 2024. Over time, a right to counsel will pay for itself, bring down our cities’ high eviction rates, and changing a system that causes poverty and contributes to racial segregation.
“The justice and urgency of the Right to Counsel bill is self-evident for the tenants we work with, for the justice-seeking organizations in our coalition, and for the more than a thousand people who have already signed our petition,” says Luke Melonakos-Harrison, an organizer with right to counsel coalition partner Central CT DSA. “Evictions–especially when enforced against tenants lacking fair legal representation in court–only entrench the racial segregation and extreme economic inequality that characterize so many of Connecticut’s communities. Although tenants are vastly underrepresented in our state government, we are making ourselves heard through this campaign.”