Housing in Brief: Detroit Will Provide Free Legal Help to Renters Facing Eviction

Also: In NYC, basement apartments may be legalized and rent-stabilized apartments face a hike. 

(Photo by Amarnath / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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Right to Counsel Passes in Detroit

On May 10, Detroit’s City Council approved a law providing free legal aid to low-income Detroiters facing eviction, according to The Detroit News. The law will rely on $6 million in COVID relief funds and another $4 million from a philanthropic donor, according to the outlet. The city will join over a dozen cities across the country with “Right To Counsel” laws, which provide free representation to low-income tenants with eviction proceedings. A report from the University of Michigan found that between 2014-2018, only 4.8% of Michigan’s renters had representation in eviction proceedings, compared to 83.2% of landlords. Wayne County, where Detroit is located, had an average of 23.5 eviction filings per 100 households during that period, according to the report, one of the highest rates in the country.

Cities that have introduced Right To Counsel laws have seen a decrease in eviction filings, as landlords with frivolous claims are less likely to bring tenants to court. In NYC, zip codes where Right To Counsel had been rolled out in the first two years of its phased introduction had a 29% reduction in evictions, according to NYC’s Right To Counsel Coalition.

New York State Close to Loosening Regulations on Basement Apartments

New York is primed to pass legislation that will make it easier to bring basement apartments up to code, Crain’s New York reports. While the exact number is unknown, the NYC Basement Apartments Safe For Everyone (BASE) campaign estimates there are 200,000 basement apartments that could be legalized across New York City. The apartments provide cheaper options for low-income renters in a city with a shortage of affordable housing. But the units can also be unsafe and have been linked to deaths from fires, flooding and more. In 2021, 11 people died in Queens when the remnants of Hurricane Ida flooded parts of the borough.

A pilot program to legalize basement apartments in the East New York City neighborhood was approved in 2016 but defunded during the onset of the pandemic, as Next City covered in October. The program was intended to subsidize landlords’ improvements to basement units in order to bring them up to code. In addition to being defunded, the program was hampered by the web of city and state regulations that govern basement apartments.

If the legislation in the Assembly and State Senate are passed and signed by Governor Hochul, it would pave the way for the city to revisit basement apartment legalization, as the less onerous restrictions would make it cheaper for landlords to fix the units and for the city to pay for it.

Rent May Be on the Rise for Rent-Controlled Apartments in NYC

A board tasked with assigning maximum rents to NYC’s more than 2 million rent-stabilized apartments voted on May 5 that one-year leases could be increased by 2-4% and two-year leases by 4-6%. The guidelines would cover leases that began between October 1, 2022 and September 30, 2023. A final vote will occur on June 21.

The board votes once a year to set maximum allowable rent hikes on the city’s rent-stabilized units. It consists of nine members — two representatives of tenants, two representatives of building owners and four representatives of the public with either housing or economic expertise — who are all mayoral appointees and serve terms between 2-4 years. Six of the current board members were appointed by the previous mayor and three were appointed by Mayor Eric Adams.

The vote was 5-4, according to the New York Times, with tenant representatives voting against the measure, and one representative of building owners also voting against it because the rent increases were not high enough. The vote comes as many New Yorkers are still suffering from pandemic hardships and the lifting of the state’s eviction moratorium, which has led to overwhelmed city-funded attorneys in housing court. Judges have allowed low-income tenants to go before housing court without an attorney, as its become increasingly difficult to find an available attorney due to the backlog of cases.

The Rent Guidelines Board is accepting comments from the public on its website beginning Friday, May 13. The board also accepts comments via letters, voicemail and in-person hearings, which will occur on June 13th and June 15th.

This article is part of Backyard, a newsletter exploring scalable solutions to make housing fairer, more affordable and more environmentally sustainable. Subscribe to our weekly Backyard newsletter.

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Roshan Abraham is Next City's housing correspondent and a former Equitable Cities fellow. He is based in Queens. Follow him on Twitter at @roshantone.

Tags: detroitrenters rightshousing access

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