Local and national advocates gathered at the inaugural Detroit Eviction Right to Counsel Summit on March 12. Stout Managing Director and Pro Bono Practice Leader Neil Steinkamp was among the many speakers who discussed the major eviction crisis in cities across the country and tenants' need for legal representation.
Neil has completed studies in Philadelphia and New York on right to counsel and the potential municipal cost savings of providing attorneys to tenants facing eviction. Following these studies, New York passed legislation authorizing right to counsel, while Philadelphia recently proposed similar legislation. Although Neil hasn't performed a formal analysis of what it would cost to guarantee representation in Detroit, he estimates it would be $3.5 million to $4 million.
Speakers at the summit said evictions can have a wide effect, leading to job loss, worsening health problems, and forcing children to switch schools. Guaranteeing legal assistance could prevent evictions, reducing costs associated with homeless shelters, courts, and healthcare. At the event, city leaders and legal nonprofits committed to regularly meeting and discussing future proposals to find a solution for Detroit, where only about 4.4% of tenants in the approximately 32,000 evictions filed in 2017 had an attorney. The Detroit News found in 2017 that one out of five Detroit families who rent face eviction every year and that most landlords who took their renters to court were operating illegally themselves.
The summit's conveners included more than 20 organizations that are dedicated to addressing the eviction crisis in Detroit.