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D.C. Legal Services Community Relaunches Housing Right to Counsel Project

November 02, 2023

Today Legal Aid DC announced the relaunch of the Housing Right to Counsel Project, a joint initiative that includes the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center, Bread for the City, Legal Counsel for the Elderly, Neighborhood Legal Services Program, and Rising for Justice.

The Housing Right to Counsel Project, which is also supported by the D.C. Access to Justice Commission and the DC Bar Foundation, provides free legal services to low-income District residents with housing subsidies who are facing eviction. The project pairs tenants with a volunteer lawyer from one of 19 participating law firms across the District, as well as from pro bono programs of the D.C. Office of the Attorney General and the federal government.

The relaunch of the Housing Right to Counsel Project coincides with a housing affordability crisis in the District. Between January 2022 and January 2023, scheduled evictions increased 250 percent, according to data from the U.S. Marshals Service. But fewer than 15 percent of tenants at eviction hearings have legal representation, compared to 95 percent of landlords.

Over the last year, “Legal Aid has seen a 50 percent increase in calls for eviction cases, with low-income Black and Brown residents bearing the brunt of the District’s housing affordability crisis. Legal services providers across the District have drastically increased our efforts to help low-income residents, but we know that there is a large unmet need,” said Legal Aid DC Executive Director Vikram Swaruup.

“That’s why we are reinvigorating and strengthening this project that uses collective action — from legal services providers to law firms — to support our community, enable residents to access legal services to help assert their rights, and help ensure that more District residents can stay in their homes,” Swaruup added.

Kelli Neptune, executive director of the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center, said “every tenant, regardless of their ability to pay, deserves legal representation when a basic human need, like shelter, is at risk.”

“Through the Housing Right to Counsel Project, represented tenants can navigate the complex maze of the legal system, making housing security in the District of Columbia a reality,” Neptune said. “With the support of dedicated pro bono attorneys, the Housing Right to Counsel Project will not only prevent homelessness for many Washingtonians, but also preserve dignity and restore faith in the judicial system.”

Between 2016 and 2019, more than 300 District residents received a lawyer through the Housing Right to Counsel Project, but during the pandemic the city’s eviction moratorium prevented eviction filings, diminishing the immediate need for the project.

To restart the program, legal services providers will send letters guaranteeing counsel to one out of every six tenants with subsidies against whom a publicly available eviction case has been filed and scheduled for November and December 2023.

Click here to learn more about the project.

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