NEW ORLEANS—Today, housing advocates and renting families celebrated a major milestone when the New Orleans City Council unanimously passed a Right to Counsel ordinance. The ordinance states that anyone at risk of losing their home in eviction court has a right to an attorney and creates a permanent framework for the program the Council began last year when it appropriated $2 million to support eviction defense work.
The passage of the ordinance means New Orleans joins a growing list of dozens of other cities, like Cleveland, OH, Denver, CO, Kansas City, MO, Louisville, KY, and Milwaukee, WI, as well as three states—Washington, Connecticut, and Maryland—in ensuring a right to counsel in eviction court. Before the pandemic, Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative’s (JPNSI’s) Eviction Court Monitoring Program found that only 6% of households facing eviction in New Orleans had access to an attorney and that households facing eviction were disproportionately led by Black women. Those who did have access, had dramatically better results and were 4.5 times less likely to be evicted.
After housing advocates presented on this data and the success of other programs last year, the Mayor and City Council agreed to fully fund a Right to Counsel program for the 2022 budget year. The urgency of the program has only become more apparent since, as Hurricane Ida and record inflation have dramatically increased rents, making it harder for anyone who loses a home to find a new one. Recent eviction data from the Eviction Court Monitoring Program also suggest an increase of 12% in eviction filings for 2022 over the last full pre-pandemic year, 2019. Districts C and E see the most evictions with roughly 1,500 per year, though there are hot spots in every district and they are typically the neighborhoods that the federal government redlined nearly a century ago.
Councilmember Moreno, who authored the ordinance, and housing advocates, described the ordinance as key to making the program permanent and ensuring its success. The ordinance will specifically set the basic rules and eligibility for the program, such as who is covered and how renters should receive notice of the program. It also creates reporting requirements to track effectiveness and provides some assurance that the program will exist in the future, making it much easier to hire new staff.
“Most importantly though, the ordinance lets families know that the City won’t pull the rug out from under them after only one year,” said Cashauna Hill, Executive Director of the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center. “Everyone deserves access to an attorney before potentially being forced from their home, so we’re proud to see the City doing the right thing for our majority-renter residents,” she continued.