Housing In Brief: Philadelphia Expands Right To Counsel

Also, NYC migrants are protesting a move to barracks-style shelter.

Housing in South Philly

(Photo by E. Vitka / Unsplash)

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Philadelphia Expands Right To Counsel Initiative

Philadelphia announced it will expand its Right To Counsel initiative, which provides attorneys to low-income residents facing eviction, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The program was piloted a year ago in two zip codes in North and West Philadelphia where residents were at high risk of eviction. The program will now expand to the 19134 and 19144 zip codes, which cover the neighborhoods of Port Richmond, Kensington, Germantown and East Germantown, according to the Inquirer.

The program is available to tenants making $29,160 a year for single adults and $39,330 for two-person households. Last year, 38% of tenants in the two piloted zip codes had representation, as opposed to 21% citywide.

According to the National Coalition for a Civil Right To Counsel, 15 cities and three states have a statutory right to counsel for people in eviction proceedings. In addition to this program, Philadelphia also has a successful eviction diversion program which requires landlords to seek mediation before filing for eviction.

Migrants in NYC Protest Move from Hotel

Migrants whom the city had housed in the Watson Hotel in Manhattan protested a planned move to a newly-erected congregate shelter at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in Red Hook. The shelter is one of many emergency facilities the city has brought online in the past year to address an influx of migrants since last year.

The standoff began on Sunday when some migrants who began moving to the shelter returned to the hotel, unhappy with conditions in the Red Hook building, according to Gothamist. The population at the Watson Hotel consists of single adult men, and the city said they were moving them to the shelter to make space for migrant families. Plans to move migrants to congregate settings were criticized by Legal Aid Society and Coalition for the Homeless last fall because the city’s planned locations were far from amenities and potentially crowded. While the city is not calling the Red Hook site an ‘emergency relief center’ and not a homeless shelter, the city’s large congregate homeless shelters are notoriously unsafe and unsanitary.

Some migrants had also already found jobs near the hotel, and feared the Red Hook location would make it difficult to get to work. Migrants who were denied re-entry to the hotel began sleeping outside, with tarps and supplies provided by mutual aid groups who had flocked to the hotel. By Tuesday night, a group of migrants had agreed to tour the Red Hook site, but found the conditions unsatisfying, Gothamist reports. The city has had about 42,000 migrants arrive since last Spring, the mayor’s office says, and has been struggling to house them.

Private Equity Firm Blackstone Increases Evictions

The large real estate firm and private equity giant Blackstone has been ramping up evictions in the past few months as its self-imposed eviction forbearance program ends, according to the Financial Times. According to the outlet, consultants for Blackstone have been calling California politicians to “warn” them about an uptick in evictions in areas where tenants are delinquent.

The Financial Times learned that Blackstone’s head of real estate Nadeem Meghji told employees that the company would be “seeing a meaningful increase in economic occupancy as we move past what were voluntary eviction restrictions that had been in place for the last couple of years.”

During the company’s self-imposed eviction forbearance program, it did not evict any tenants for nonpayment for more than two years, according to the Financial Times, even after local and federal eviction moratoria elapsed. If this was more generous than small landlords, that’s because the massive private equity firm could afford it: Blackstone brought in $557.9 million in net income last year and $1.4 billion the year before. The company manages nearly $1 trillion worth of assets. And it spent billions of dollars acquiring new property during the pandemic.

Because the company’s portfolio is so large, even without evicting tenants, “Blackstone’s real estate business has outperformed publicly traded peers,” according to the Financial Times.

Other stories we’re following:

  • In a report, the Urban Institute looked at the historic effects of racial redlining carried out by the Federal Housing Administration and whether it has a direct relationship to housing instability today. They found the relationship between redlined neighborhoods and markers of housing instability, like eviction risk, inconsistent, even as the neighborhoods remain racially segregated and disinvested. The neighborhoods were, however, more likely to have lower-income renters, less economic opportunity and contain more environmental hazards.

  • According to a Moody’ s Analytics report, the average American renter is rent-burdened, meaning they pay more than 30% of their wages toward rent.

  • Gotham Gazette and NY Focus found that between 2016-2020, NYCHA failed to fulfill a law requiring it to hire local low-income residents. The law, called Section 3, required that the public housing authority make an effort to hire 30% of its construction and contracting workforce from low-income NYCHA residents, but as of 2020 was only hiring 22% of its workforce from this cohort. NYCHA has long had a high unemployment rate, with a Community Service Society report putting it at 22%.

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: new york cityphiladelphiaevictionshousing equity

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