Right now in Jersey City, like in many cities around the country, tenants are being bled dry. From inflation hiking up groceries and gas to a real estate market pushing the working class out with soaring home prices and record-high rents. Gentrification, the targeted displacement of the working class, comes part and parcel with all time high profits for real estate developers. This has no longer been the trend, but the rule in Jersey City. Only as long we don’t fight back. In these hard times we need to build solidarity citywide with a coalition that can hold up and eventually beat back developers, corporate landlords and their control of politicians.
While Americans have a right to counsel for criminal proceedings, we only have a patchwork of coverage for representation if threatened with eviction. Like we’re seeing with the many rollbacks of our rights right now, we can’t play the game of “justice by geography.” In 2017 before NYC was the first city to pass a right to counsel, on average, 95% of landlords were represented in court while less than 1% of tenants were. When represented, however, tenants overwhelmingly end up staying in their homes, get more time and money to move, and even avoid getting an eviction on their record. Now 3 states and 15 cities (NYC, San Francisco, Seattle, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New Orleans, Cleveland and Newark to name a few) have a right to counsel for evictions. Unlike Newark’s ‘right’ to counsel that covers the most vulnerable, we believe a “right” means no means-testing. No evictions without representation. The right should also be a right to affirm tenants rights like hospitality, counterclaims and appeals.
The housing crisis is a racial justice crisis. The neighborhoods targeted by developers see the highest rate of evictions, and to no surprise they are usually Black, Hispanic/Latino, and other non-White working class communities. Evictions and involuntary displacement thrust families into hardship with employment, access to education, loss of benefits, and even securing future housing with an eviction record. In NYC, the baseline shelter application rate of non-evicted households is 3.4%. Before we build more shelters we need to keep folks in their homes.
Our Right To Counsel ordinance should be funded progressively by those doing the harm of evictions and displacement. We believe this to be the heart of the policy. Those responsible for this crisis should be the ones that pay, not taxpayers. That’s why we want Right to Counsel JC to be funded by development fees developers should be paying but aren’t.
Rather than wait for our leaders to figure it out and risk a watered down program, we crafted this policy to drastically shift the power imbalance between landlords and tenants. We’re making our politicians choose, either us, or the biggest landlords in the City. That said, we need a bottom-up, grassroots movement to actually win this. Join the campaign of organizations advocating, agitating and organizing to win. Knock doors, donate and organize tenants to win this ordinance in the City Council and fight for the Right to Counsel in Jersey City.