A program offering free legal representation to low-income tenants facing eviction likely saved the state millions it would have otherwise spent providing emergency shelter services, child welfare, health care and education services, a new report shows.
Evictions, which rose last year after pandemic-era protections expired, can have serious, long-term consequences for tenants, including to their health, mental health, education, and future housing stability. The report, which was submitted to the state legislature, on Connecticut’s right to counsel program outlines the impact the program has had on tenants’ access to legal representation during the eviction process.
By preventing evictions or helping tenants obtain additional time to find new housing before they’re evicted, Connecticut likely saved between $5.8 and $6.3 million from the end of January to the end of November 2022, the report says.
That count is likely understated, the report says, because it doesn’t include certain costs for children’s services after an eviction, mental health care, or the cost of providing public benefits to people who lose their jobs after an eviction, among other expenses.
“We are representing more people than we’ve ever represented before, providing high-quality services to those folks and generally getting good results,” said Elizabeth Rosenthal, deputy director at New Haven Legal Assistance, in a previous interview. “I would say we are ensuring that they are in a much better position than they would have been if they had to go to court without an attorney.”
Stout, an independent advisory firm, prepared the report after reviewing data from participating legal aid groups and the Connecticut Bar Foundation.
Right to counsel launched about a year ago, making Connecticut the third state to provide such a program. It’s available to low-income tenants in certain ZIP codes and veterans statewide. Since its start, the number of tenants with legal representation in right to counsel ZIP codes increased by about 176% – from an average of 401 pre-pandemic to 1,109 tenants this year.
The program aimed to close the gap between the number of tenants and the number of landlords who have legal representation in eviction cases.
State lawmakers approved the use of $20 million in COVID relief dollars to establish the program. Officials expect funding to last until about 2024.
The report found that attorneys were “overwhelmingly successful” in helping clients achieve goals including avoiding eviction judgements, avoiding a forced move, and getting at least 30 days to move.
Evictions disproportionately affect women, people of color and particularly women of color. Right to counsel clients are more likely to be female, Black and have multiple people living in their homes.
Many also reported that their homes had defective conditions, according to the report.
Increases in the number of eviction filings over the past year proved challenging for providers, the report says.
“For example, in certain courts, more eviction cases are being scheduled on the docket of a given hearing date, and there has been an increased demand for mediation services,” the report says. “With more eviction filings scheduled at each hearing and more cases being scheduled for mediation, the ability for the Providers to respond and ensure tenants are able to access legal representation when they want it has been stressed.”
Tiffany Walton, grants program director at the Connecticut Bar Foundation, said tenants can get the most help out of the right to counsel program if they call early —soon after they receive a notice to quit or verbal warning from their landlord.
“At that point, a phone specialist or an attorney can give them advice about what to expect,” Walton said. “Tenants are encouraged to reach out as early as possible.”
More information about right to counsel is available online.