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RELEASE: Rep. Khanna, Majority Whip Clyburn, Sen. Bennet, Reps. Price and Clarke Introduce Legislation to Provide Legal Assistance to Tenants Facing Eviction

February 13, 2020
Press Release

Washington, DC – Today, Rep. Ro Khanna (CA-17), House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (SC-6), Rep. David Price (NC-4), and Rep. Yvette D. Clarke (NY-9) introduced H.R. 5884, the “Legal Assistance to Prevent Evictions Act of 2020,” which establishes a competitive grant program to provide legal assistance at no cost to eligible tenants facing eviction. Senator Michael Bennet (CO) is introducing companion legislation in the Senate.

More than 6,300 Americans are evicted every day – nearly one eviction every four minutes. Low income women, especially racial minorities, are at particularly high risk of eviction. Nearly one in three American households pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing—the standard measure of affordability—due to salaries failing to keep up with climbing rents. For one in six households, more than half of their income goes to housing.  Families cost-burdened by unaffordable rent are just one bad break away from eviction. 

Only 10 percent of tenants in eviction cases have legal representation, while 90 percent of landlords do.  This disparity results in significantly more evictions, with lasting negative consequences to the affected families, than would occur if more tenants were represented by counsel.

The Legal Assistance to Prevent Eviction Act would do the following:

  • Provide grants to non-profit or governmental entities to provide no-cost legal assistance to low-income and cost-burdened tenants facing eviction.
  • Favor organizations that have a track record of providing legal services to low-income populations and provide services in census tracts with high rates of eviction.
  • Give preference to jurisdictions that promote tenant rights, including a right to counsel in eviction cases, while ensuring that all grants supplement, rather than supplant, existing efforts.
  • Ensure that grant funds assist tenants in both urban and rural areas.

“For every 100 households in the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara metro area, we’ve only built 30 units,” said Rep. Ro Khanna. “That means we are operating on a deficit of thousands of homes, as working families face sky-rocketing rents and the constant risk of eviction. This legislation would provide crucial investments for government agencies and non-profits providing much-needed legal assistance to keep tenants in their homes and support vulnerable households. Every American has the right to safe and affordable housing. Congress has to step up and prevent more evictions from tearing at the foundations of our communities.”

 “Eviction rates are at crisis levels in South Carolina,” said Majority Whip James E. Clyburn. “Although New York has nearly 4 times the population of South Carolina, in 2016, the number of evictions in my home state exceeded New York state by 3,000 and equaled the number in California. South Carolina’s nine percent eviction rate is more than triple the national average. This legislation is desperately needed to keep families in their homes.  There is nothing more important to ensuring an individual remains a vital, contributing member of the community—and to ensuring that communities remain vibrant—than ensuring they have a stable roof over their head.” 

“A stable home is essential for every American to be able to achieve their potential to live a full and meaningful life,” said Sen. Michael Bennet. “When I worked for the kids in the Denver Public Schools, I saw far too many who fell asleep in the middle of class because they didn’t have a stable place to stay the night before. And I witnessed many kids forced to change schools mid-year because their families lost their homes. While the cost of housing continues to rise, incomes have barely budged – and as a result, families across Colorado are being forced to the brink of eviction. Often, tenants cannot afford legal representation, leaving them on their own, unable to fully appreciate their options and not knowing where to turn to for help.  This bill would provide additional support for legal assistance, so families are treated more fairly in our court system.”

“To end the cycle of poverty and homelessness, we must attack one of the root causes – eviction,” said Rep. David E. Price. “Research shows that evictions can cause job loss, negatively affect mental health, and result in court records that can act as a new barrier to housing in the future. Unfortunately, access to counsel during eviction proceedings isn’t guaranteed in our judicial system.  I’m proud to join Whip Clyburn, Senator Bennet, and other colleagues to propose a new competitive grant program that will boost the efforts of state and local organizations that are working to resolve tenant-landlord disputes and prevent unnecessary evictions in our communities.”

“I am proud to stand with my colleagues Whip Clyburn and Congressman Price in support of the Legal Assistance to Prevent Evictions Act because it is crucial that we support initiatives that protect our nation’s most vulnerable,” said Yvette D. Clarke. “Safe and affordable housing is a human right and for far too long, families in my district and across the nation have been traumatized by evictions that have left them penniless and in danger. HUD has a responsibility to help when individuals are facing troubled times—because ultimately as humans we all face low points in our lives and we all deserve access to the opportunities to get back on our feet.”

“There is growing evidence that evictions are not just a condition of poverty, but a cause of poverty – one that does disproportionate harm to people of color. Evictions have broad, destabilizing, and harmful effects on individuals and families, negatively impacting everything from health to education,” said Diane Yentel, President and CEO, National Low Income Housing Coalition. “I applaud Senator Michael Bennet, Chairman David Price, and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn for introducing legislation to help more families receive the legal assistance needed to avoid evictions when possible.”

“We now have a new understanding of America’s eviction crisis, and NHLP celebrates any efforts to prevent or mitigate the disproportionate impacts on low-income renters and people of color,” said Shamus Roller, Executive Director, National Housing Law Project. “The Legal Assistance to Prevent Evictions Act will fund essential legal assistance for vulnerable Americans.”

“For low-income renters in rural communities with limited rental housing availability, an eviction can mean facing homelessness without the safety net of high-capacity supportive services found in urban centers,” David Lipsetz, CEO, Housing Assistance Council. “That’s why we applaud Congressman Clyburn and Congressman Price for their work on this issue, and for lifting up the needs of rural tenants in the Legal Assistance to Prevent Evictions Act. No family should face eviction without access to legal assistance.”

“The eviction right to counsel movement has taken really taken hold all over the country,” said John Pollock, Coordinator, National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel. “This funding from the federal government will help continue that forward momentum, especially since it gives preference to cities/states that have created such a right.”

"The eviction crisis is devastating to low-income families and vulnerable communities,” said Jeffrey Dillman, Co-Director, Legal Aid of North Carolina's Fair Housing Project. “Evictions are not only a major cause of homelessness, but also have been shown to damage health, negatively impact children's educational performance and destabilize entire communities. Providing free legal aid to tenants is a proven solution to this problem."

“We want to thank Congressman Clyburn for his leadership in helping to address the eviction crisis by recognizing the important need for tenant representation,” said Sue Berkowitz, Director, SC Appleseed Legal Justice Center. “In a state with some of the highest per capita eviction rates for large, medium and rural areas this legislation will go a long way to ensure that tenants are afforded their rights when facing eviction.  This assistance will help to stabilize families and communities around our state.”

You can read the full bill text here.

 

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About the Office

Congressman Khanna represents the 17th District of California, which covers communities in Silicon Valley. Visit his website at khanna.house.gov. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @RepRoKhanna.