Facing eviction, some low-income DC tenants will receive free lawyer help

Few things can be more disruptive to a family than being evicted — some lower-income tenants in the District of Columbia will soon get legal help while trying to stay in their homes.

Starting this month, a coalition of six nonprofits and 19 private law firms, will relaunch a pre-pandemic project — the Housing Right to Counsel Project — to provide free legal services for low-income residents with housing subsidies who are facing eviction.

The need for representation during evictions proceedings is greater for tenants receiving housing subsidies — not only can they lose their home, but also their subsidy.

“If residents using subsidies are evicted, it becomes functionally impossible for them to access a subsidy again, forcing them into homelessness,” said Nancy Drane, executive director of the District of Columbia Access to Justice Commission. “The harmful ripple effects of eviction are devastating and can cascade into other challenges, causing residents to lose their possessions, their jobs, access to their children’s schools, and their community and support networks in their neighborhoods.”

A Legal Aid DC news release outlines how 300 District residents received a lawyer through the Housing Right to Counsel Project from 2016 to 2019.

“Compared to a control group, tenants who were contacted and helped through the Project were 16 times more likely to challenge an eviction and eight times less likely to face an eviction judgment,” the news release recounted.

Having an attorney has been shown to help tenants receive more time to work toward a resolution to stave off an eviction order, according to the group.

During the pandemic, the District’s eviction moratorium prevented eviction filings. Now that the moratorium is over, scheduled evictions increased 250% in D.C. between January 2022 and January 2023, according to figures from the U.S. Marshals Service.

“Compared to a year ago, Legal Aid has seen a 50% increase in calls for eviction cases, with low-income Black and Brown residents bearing the brunt of the District’s housing affordability crisis,” said Vikram Swaruup, executive director of Legal Aid DC.

Visit Legal Aid DC’s website to learn more about access to the Housing Right to Counsel Project.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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