Councilman wants to combat staggering eviction rates with pilot program

Advocates: Many tenants don't have adequate representation

By Deven Clarke - Crime and Justice Reporter, Adam B. Higgins - Photojournalist

SAN ANTONIO - With roughly 16,000 evictions filed throughout San Antonio last year, District One Councilman Roberto Trevino is hoping to use budget money to help prevent people from getting kicked out of their homes.

The proposed program is called “Right to Counsel,” and part of it includes providing a lawyer for those facing eviction who may not know their rights.

Tenant advocate Sam Woody says many of those being kicked out of their homes could stand a fighting chance against eviction, but they're not sure how to argue their cases.

“Since 2009 or 2010, I believe, to now, evictions (in San Antonio) have tripled,” Woody said. “Knowing what your legal claims are to countersue and create leverage for yourself, that's something that your average layperson or pro-se tenant isn't going to know and isn't going to be able to figure out in a couple of weeks.”

Trevino is hoping city budget funds will be allocated for the program.

Of San Antonio's residents, 47% rent, he said.

“If we can save a few families, if we could keep families and people in their homes, I think that goes a long way for who we are here in San Antonio,” Trevino said.

Trevino clarifies the program isn't meant to be a defense mechanism for those who simply stop paying rent, or blatantly violate lease agreements, but rather equip the underserved with tools needed to defend themselves in court. Woody agreed with that sentiment.

“Landlords have representation in evictions courts generally anywhere from 60% to 90% of the time, depending on the court, whereas tenants are represented, like, 6% to 10% of the time,” Woody said.

Last year, Trevino says, less than 1% of eviction judgments were decided in favor of the tenant, while almost 80% were defaulted or in favor of the landlord. He's hoping to begin the Right to Counsel program this fall.

To read more about the program, click here.

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