Philly City Council gets bill that would guarantee right to lawyer for tenants facing eviction

Pat Loeb
May 08, 2019 - 9:22 pm
Philadelphia City Hall.

Holli Stephens / KYW Newsradio

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia City Councilwoman Helen Gym plans to introduce a bill Thursday that would expand legal representation for tenants facing eviction. 

The bill would grant anyone facing an eviction proceeding the right to a lawyer. It follows the creation of a legal defense fund last year that helped more than 1,000 tenants through the process - not that they necessarily stayed in their homes, but they weren't simply tossed out as they had time to plan and move and recover some costs. 

Gym believes it's also the reason eviction filings dropped from 22,000 to 18,000.

"When people have access to legal representation, they can find alternatives before they're either on the street on in our $40,000 (per person) a year shelter system," she said. 

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Still, Community Legal Services attorney Rasheeda Philips says the so-called "right to counsel" bill is necessary because there's more to do.

"There's still a significant number of people facing homelessness, and gentrification is a very real thing in our community where rents continue to rise and people are being displaced," Philips said. 

The city put $800,000 into the fund. 

The Mayor has proposed cutting that to $500,000, but Gym's bill would increase the amount to about $1.5 million. 

The Bar Association has estimated that a $3.5 million fund would end up saving $45 million.