CONTACT: Justin Renteria, 210-207-0900
SAN ANTONIO (August 30, 2019) — The Neighborhood and Housing Services Department confirmed the Right to Counsel Pilot for renters will be included in their Fiscal Year 2020 Budget, after District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño proposed earmarking $100,000 from the Risk Mitigation Fund to create the first Right to Counsel program in Texas for eviction cases. Right to Counsel guarantees renters access to legal help when facing evictions, especially helping those who may not have the means to retain an attorney otherwise.
In 2016, over 9,800 families were evicted in San Antonio - about 27 families per day. 2018 court records actually show approximately 16,000 eviction filings in Bexar County. Less than 1% of 2018 eviction judgements were decided in favor of the tenant, while almost 80% of judgements were default or judgements in favor of the property owner.
“Just by the data you can see that renters are on the front lines of the housing affordability issue too,” said Treviño. “Right to Counsel does not change the merits of any case - it just ensures those facing eviction have a trained professional defending their rights.”
From 2017-2018, New York City reduced residential evictions by 11% in zip codes offering tenants Right to Counsel. Data showed 84% of tenants represented by attorneys were able to stay in their homes, whereas approximately 50% of tenants without legal representation were evicted before Right to Counsel was available. Furthermore, a Boston Bar Association study of Right to Counsel programs in Massachusetts found the average cost of legal services was about $550.00 per family per eviction case while represented tenants fared, on average, twice as well in terms of retaining possession. This can be far less than relocation expenses provided locally, which can reach as much as $5,000 per case per family.
“I strongly believe the most affordable home is the one you currently live in,” said Treviño. “Providing Right to Counsel for renters who are at a higher risk of homelessness due to eviction just makes sense from compassionate and financial perspectives.”
Via a memo dated August 8th, Treviño recommended the “funds be administered directly to non-profit legal aid partners, like Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, or as identified by the Neighborhood & Housing Services Department (NHSD). If approved, the Renters Commission (as outlined by Councilmember Treviño in a recent Council Consideration Request) should also provide guidance on potential legal aid partners as well as the metrics of the pilot program.”
“Every day, the Neighborhood and Housing Services Department works to provide residents with the resources they need to stay in their homes,” said Veronica Soto, Director of Neighborhoods and Housing Services. “Resources like Right to Counsel have the potential to help even more families as they face housing insecurity.”
The Right to Counsel Pilot, along with the rest of the proposed 2020 Budget, is pending approval by City Council on September 12th. Residents can learn more about the budget and provide input by visiting https://www.sanantonio.gov/Budget.