In Jersey City, fight for housing may come with right to free lawyer, too

Legislation establishes right-to-counsel for tenants facing eviction, could bring in tens of millions of dollars to city’s affordable housing trust

Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop along with Councilmembers James Solomon, Frank Gilmore and Yousef Saleh are set to introduce right-to-counsel legislation – a proposal aimed at helping those facing unfair evictions.

The legislation, which could be one of the strongest RTC policies in the country, would be paid for entirely by collecting fees on new development, which would provide the city with tens of millions of dollars for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund each year. The legislation will ensure that any and all new development in Jersey City provides funding toward new affordable housing.

Mayor Steve Fulop. (File photo)

“We have made historic improvements to expand affordability and important protections for residents, and this Right-to-Counsel proposal will put the necessary policies in place to further help our most vulnerable families facing unfair evictions,” Fulop said. “Most people facing eviction can’t afford an attorney to defend their basic human right to housing.

“This RTC goes beyond funding their legal needs. It will also add critical funding to expand affordable housing opportunities for low- and middle-income residents for generations to come.”

The proposed bill would establish a Right-to-Counsel office where tenants will be connected to legal services and resources like rental assistance programs. It would also establish an implementation oversight board led by tenants.

“Everyone deserves the right to safe, affordable housing — and everyone deserves the right to keep that housing,” Solomon said. “We all want to reduce the number of evictions in our city, and to do that, we need to make sure that tenants are fairly represented in eviction court while ensuring that the developers profiting from rising rents pay what they owe.”

Gilmore said the RTC will go a long way to helping those in underserved communities.

“People facing eviction — disproportionately Black and brown communities — are currently not entitled to representation when facing eviction,” he said. “These are often the people who can’t afford private representation, while landlords and developers who make large profits can and do.

“It’s time to tip the scales back toward the people and ensure everyone has the right to fair representation.”

Saleh said the fund addressing the fallout of inflation.

“Right now, people can’t afford to pay skyrocketing rents, leaving more families at risk of eviction — while developers continue to get away with making record profits at our expense,” he said. “We need to fight to keep Jersey City residents in their homes, because higher costs and a lack of legal protections are driving them out.”