Bennet, Clyburn Introduce New Legislation to Provide Legal Assistance to Tenants Facing Eviction

Bill Would Keep More Coloradans in Their Homes, Including in Denver, Where Just 2% of Tenants Facing Eviction Have Legal Representation

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-SC-6) introduced the Legal Assistance to Prevent Evictions Act, new, bicameral legislation to keep more Americans in their homes by establishing a competitive grant program to provide legal assistance at no cost to eligible tenants facing eviction. 

Five Colorado cities ranked in the nation’s 100 “Top Evicting Areas” in 2016 – Aurora (ranked #33, with a 5.52% eviction rate), Thornton (#48, 4.64%), Colorado Springs (#64, 4.19%), Westminster (#93, 3.16%), and Lakewood (#94, 3.15%). In Denver eviction cases, 90% of landlords are represented by lawyers, compared to just 2% of tenants—consistent with nationwide trends. The Legal Assistance to Prevent Evictions Act would give renters facing eviction in Colorado and across the country access to much-needed legal representation. 

“A stable home is essential for every American to be able to achieve their potential to live a full and meaningful life. When I worked for the kids in the Denver Public Schools, I saw far too many who fell asleep in the middle of class because they didn’t have a stable place to stay the night before. And I witnessed many kids forced to change schools mid-year because their families lost their homes,” said Bennet. “While the cost of housing continues to rise, incomes have barely budged – and as a result, families across Colorado are being forced to the brink of eviction. Often, tenants cannot afford legal representation, leaving them on their own, unable to fully appreciate their options, and not knowing where to turn to for help. This bill would provide additional support for legal assistance, so families are treated more fairly in our court system.” 

“Eviction rates are at crisis levels in South Carolina. Although New York has nearly 4 times the population of South Carolina, in 2016, the number of evictions in my home state exceeded New York state by 3,000 and equaled the number in California. South Carolina’s nine percent eviction rate is more than triple the national average.  This legislation is desperately needed to keep families in their homes.  There is nothing more important to ensuring an individual remains a vital, contributing member of the community—and to ensuring that communities remain vibrant—than ensuring they have a stable roof over their head,” said Clyburn. 

Adjusting for inflation, the national median rent payment has risen 61% since 1960 while the national median renter income grew only 5%. In 2016, 2.3 million eviction filings were made in courthouses across the United States—a rate of four every minute. That same year, one in 50 renters was evicted from his or her home. Nearly 40 million households are “cost-burdened,” spending more than 30% of their income on housing, including 18 million households that pay more than half of their income toward the rent or the mortgage. This affordable housing crisis has crippled economic security for families and placed enormous costs on the nation’s health care system, courts, schools, and local governments. 

The Legal Assistance to Prevent Evictions Act would:

  • Provide grants to non-profit or governmental entities to provide no-cost legal assistance to low-income and cost-burdened tenants facing eviction.
  • Favor organizations that have a track record of providing legal services to low-income populations and provide services in Census tracts with high rates of eviction.
  • Give preference to jurisdictions that promote tenant rights, including a right to counsel in eviction cases, while ensuring that all grants supplement, rather than supplant, existing efforts.
  • Ensure that grant funds assist tenants in both urban and rural areas. 

Joining Clyburn in introducing companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives are Congressman David Price (D-NC-4), Congresswoman Yvette Clarke (D-NY-9), and Congressman Ro Khanna (D-CA-17).

The bill text is available HERE

Today’s bill comes on the heels of Bennet’s Eviction Crisis Act, legislation he introduced in December with U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) to shed light on the root causes of the eviction crisis, reduce preventable evictions, and limit the devastation to families when eviction is unavoidable. The Eviction Crisis Act also supports increased legal representation for tenants and creates a program to expand use of landlord-tenant community courts, helping both tenants and landlords avoid the high cost of eviction.

“To end the cycle of poverty and homelessness, we must attack one of the root causes – eviction.  Research shows that evictions can cause job loss, negatively affect mental health, and result in court records that can act as a new barrier to housing in the future.  Unfortunately, access to counsel during eviction proceedings isn’t guaranteed in our judicial system.  I’m proud to join Whip Clyburn, Senator Bennet, and other colleagues to propose a new competitive grant program that will boost the efforts of state and local organizations that are working to resolve tenant-landlord disputes and prevent unnecessary evictions in our communities,” said Price. 

“I am proud to stand with my colleagues Whip Clyburn and Congressman Price in support of the Legal Assistance to Prevent Evictions Act because it is crucial that we support initiatives that protect our nation’s most vulnerable. Safe and affordable housing is a human right and for far too long, families in my district and across the nation have been traumatized by evictions that have left them penniless and in danger. HUD has a responsibility to help when individuals are facing troubled times—because ultimately as humans we all face low points in our lives and we all deserve access to the opportunities to get back on our feet,” said Clarke. 

“For every 100 households in the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara metro area, we’ve only built 30 units. That means we are operating on a deficit of thousands of homes, as working families face sky-rocketing rents and the constant risk of eviction. This legislation would provide crucial investments for government agencies and non-profits providing much-needed legal assistance to keep tenants in their homes and support vulnerable households. Every American has the right to safe and affordable housing. Congress has to step up and prevent more evictions from tearing at the foundations of our communities,” said Khanna. 

“There is growing evidence that evictions are not just a condition of poverty, but a cause of poverty – one that does disproportionate harm to people of color. Evictions have broad, destabilizing, and harmful effects on individuals and families, negatively impacting everything from health to education. I applaud Senator Michael Bennet, Chairman David Price, and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn for introducing legislation to help more families receive the legal assistance needed to avoid evictions when possible,” said Diane Yentel, President and CEO, National Low Income Housing Coalition. 

“We now have a new understanding of America’s eviction crisis, and NHLP celebrates any efforts to prevent or mitigate the disproportionate impacts on low-income renters and people of color. The Legal Assistance to Prevent Evictions Act will fund essential legal assistance for vulnerable Americans,” said Shamus Roller, Executive Director, National Housing Law Project. 

“For low-income renters in rural communities with limited rental housing availability, an eviction can mean facing homelessness without the safety net of high-capacity supportive services found in urban centers. That’s why we applaud Congressman Clyburn, Congressman Price, and Senator Bennet for their work on this issue, and for lifting up the needs of rural tenants in the Legal Assistance to Prevent Evictions Act. No family should face eviction without access to legal assistance,” David Lipsetz, CEO, Housing Assistance Council. 

“The eviction right to counsel movement has taken really taken hold all over the country,” said John Pollock, Coordinator, National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel. “This funding from the federal government will help continue that forward momentum, especially since it gives preference to cities/states that have created such a right.”