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Councilmember Sawant Hails Community Support for Tenant Right to Counsel Legislation, Calls for Swift Passage by City Council

‘It’s shameful that when defending the most basic human need in life – the right to have a safe home – tenants are completely outmatched by profit-seeking landlords. This legislation will give tenants a fighting chance.’

Councilmember Kshama Sawant (District 3, Central Seattle), chair of the Council’s Sustainability and Renters Rights Committee, today said there is strong community backing for her Right to Counsel legislation (CB 120007), which is being discussed and possibly voted on Thursday in the Sustainability and Renters Rights Committee meeting beginning at 9:30 a.m. (Viewable on Seattle Channel here.)

“I’m excited to be advancing this urgently-needed legislation, which the community has been calling for: The basic right of all tenants to be represented when they are facing eviction,” Sawant said.

“It’s shameful that when defending the most basic human need in life – the right to have a safe home – tenants are completely outmatched by profit-seeking landlords,” Sawant said. “This legislation will give tenants a fighting chance when they have to go up against corporate landlords, who are responsible for the vast majority of eviction filings in our region.”

As the American Civil Liberties Union recently noted, “In the courts, the odds are stacked against tenants: 90 percent of landlords are represented by legal counsel in evictions, but fewer than 10 percent of tenants have representation.”

“Right to Counsel will keep people from being evicted and will save lives,” Sawant said. “In Seattle and throughout the country, landlords often file eviction papers to harass or bully tenants into leaving. But in cities that have Right to Counsel protections in place, both evictions and eviction filings have plummeted, according to research compiled by the National Coalition for the Right to Counsel. That is because in those cities landlords are now deterred from harassing tenants with eviction filings, because they know they will be facing off against a tenant represented by a legal aid attorney. They can’t just bully and overwhelm the tenant. As a consequence, more renters have managed to stay housed in those cities.”

Stopping evictions by ensuring every Seattle tenant, without exception, has the right to be represented by a lawyer, is an economic and social justice issue. It’s also a racial and gender justice issue. The 2018 report, Losing Home: The Human Cost of Eviction in Seattle, found that evictions fall disproportionately on women and people of color. And this is especially a Black Lives Matter issue: The Losing Home report found that Black tenants in Seattle face eviction rates 4.5 times what other tenants face.

The report found that 87.5 percent of tenants who are evicted end up homeless. Some even die as a result. 

New findings by the Housing Justice Project, which will be presented in the Thursday committee meeting, estimate that Seattle’s Right to Counsel legislation will prevent between 322 and 437 evictions every year. That will keep people in their homes, where they should be, and not struggling to survive on the streets.

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