Learn more about Right to Counsel program for renters

The Neighborhood and Housing Services Department is considering a Right to Counsel program for renters. This program would be the first of its kind in Texas if approved by City Council in early 2020. The need for such a program was identified through the preliminary phases of the assessment of the current Risk Mitigation Policy. 

District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño proposed earmarking $100,000 from the Risk Mitigation Fund to Right to Counsel that would guarantee renters access to legal help when facing evictions, especially helping those who may not have the means to retain an attorney otherwise.

In 2016, over 9,800 families were evicted in San Antonio -- about 27 families per day. 2018 court records actually show approximately 16,000 eviction filings in Bexar County. Less than 1% of 2018 eviction judgements were decided in favor of the tenant, while almost 80% of judgements were default or judgements in favor of the property owner.

"Just by the data you can see that renters are on the front lines of the housing affordability issue too," Trevino said. "Right to Counsel does not change the merits of any case - it just ensures those facing eviction have a trained professional defending their rights."

From 2017-2018, New York City reduced residential evictions by 11% in zip codes offering tenants Right to Counsel. Data showed 84% of tenants represented by attorneys were able to stay in their homes, whereas approximately 50% of tenants without legal representation were evicted before Right to Counsel was available. Furthermore, a Boston Bar Association study of Right to Counsel programs in Massachusetts found the average cost of legal services was about $550.00 per family per eviction case while represented tenants fared, on average, twice as well in terms of retaining possession. This can be far less than relocation expenses provided locally, which can reach as much as $5,000 per case per family.

"I strongly believe the most affordable home is the one you currently live in," said Treviño. "Providing Right to Counsel for renters who are at a higher risk of homelessness due to eviction just makes sense from compassionate and financial perspectives."

Via a memo dated August 8th, Treviño recommended the "funds be administered directly to non-profit legal aid partners, like Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, or as identified by the Neighborhood & Housing Services Department.

The proposed recommendation is being reviewed as part of NHSD's assessment of the Risk Mitigation Policy. The policy is funded by the Risk Mitigation Fund. The FY2020 proposed budget has $1 million allocated to the Risk Mitigation Fund. The proposed FY 2020 Budget, is pending approval by City Council on September 12th. Residents can learn more about the budget and provide input by visiting https://www.sanantonio.gov/Budget.

"The assessment of the Risk Mitigation Policy is underway and NHSD will present several recommendations to the Policy to include the re-allocation of the Risk Mitigation funds" said Veronica Soto, Director of NHSD.

Council consideration of any amendments to the policy would not take place until after the assessment goes through a public input process and is reviewed by the Housing Commission and the Planning and Community Development Council Committee.