Housing, Homelessness, and Social Services Reports and Data

John Pollock, Recent Studies Compare Full Representation to Limited Assistance in Eviction Cases, 42 National Housing Law Bulletin 72 (March 2012).

Limited assistance, meaning an attorney consulting in some capacity short of full representation, has recently been the focus of three studies of eviction proceedings. The first focused on 129 tenants, all of whom received two to three hours of training on filling out forms and court procedure. Seventy-six tenants received full representation and 53 received only the training. Those receiving full representation did better at retaining possession, saved more months of rent, and paid less to their landlords than those who received limited assistance. In the second study, 184 individuals participated, with 85 cases receiving full assistance and 99 cases receiving “lawyer for a day” representation at mediations and negotiations, but not filing motions, and 60 to 90 minutes of clinic training.  In this study, both groups achieved roughly the same results.  In the third study, 96 cases were reviewed. All 96 received clinic assistance, 29 received additional assistance negotiating with landlords, and 20 received full representation from a law clinic. The study also compared 305 cases involving no assistance. In this study, the limited assistance group did not outperform the no representation group in substantive results, such as possession, rent savings, and money judgments.  Only the fully represented group had better results in those areas.   These results seem to favor full representation but do not take into account many factors that could have an impact on results, such as screening processes, backgrounds of attorneys and judges, and procedural stages of the cases.


Debra Gardner and Ward B. Coe, III, A Right to Counsel in Critical Civil Cases and the Role of the Private Bar, 47-Aug Md. B.J. 12 (July/August 2014)


There may be deep historical support for the civil right to counsel for the poor, including as far back as the Magna Carta. The Maryland Declaration of Rights may also support this, though modern courts have not ruled on the issue to date. Existing legal aid services can only meet the legal needs of less than one in five poor Americans. Research has shown that attorney involvement can drastically affect the outcome of legal proceedings. Parties with attorneys are less likely to default, more likely to file motions, more likely to receive continuances, nearly twice as likely to prevail, and in domestic violence cases, more than twice as likely to obtain protective orders than those who are without counsel. The stakes for some poor civil litigants may be higher than those in criminal cases, including loss of child custody or eviction. Proponents of a right to counsel acknowledge that it does not apply to every civil case, only for those involving critical fundamental rights. While the private bar can contribute through pro bono hours, the need is too great to be met with pro bono alone and will require adequate public funding.


Carroll Seron, Gregg Van Ryzin, Martin Frankel and Jean Kovath. The Impact of Legal Counsel on Outcomes for Poor Tenants in New York City’s Housing Court: Results of a Randomized Experiment, 35 Law & Soc’y Rev. 419 (2001)

This article documents the results of an experiment in which legal representation was provided for low-income individuals in housing court proceedings and case outcomes were compared to those of a control group that did not receive representation. The purpose of the experiment was to evaluate the effects that implementing the right to counsel would serve tenants in New York City Housing Court. Overall, while the experiment posed several limitations, the program produced significant findings in which tenants with legal counsel received more favorable and significant outcomes regarding eviction and housing conditions in comparison to those who appeared pro se.


Boston Bar Association Task Force on Expanding the Civil Right to Counsel, The Importance of Representation in Eviction Cases and Homelessness Prevention (March 2012)

The Boston Bar Association convened a Task Force on the Civil Right to Counsel.  This task force operated two pilot projects in two different courts handling eviction cases.  One project involved a comparison between fully represented individuals and unrepresented individuals. That project saw two-thirds of the tenants receiving representation retain possession of their homes, compared to only one-third of the unrepresented group. The other project involved a comparison between individuals receiving limited representation and those receiving full representation. This project saw no measurable difference between the two groups. The findings of these studies show that representation can be crucial in housing eviction cases and that a targeted representation model could help identify those individuals who could most benefit from assistance. Ultimately, the report suggests that a targeted representation program could encourage more just outcomes for individuals facing eviction, including avoiding homelessness, and save the state money on programs for the homeless.


Matthew Desmond and Rachel Kimbro, Eviction’s Fallout: Housing, Hardship, and Health, Social Forces (2015)

This article discusses the effects that eviction has on housing, hardship, and health not only on a local scale but its affects nationally as well. The authors specifically focused on mothers in low income, urban neighborhoods. The study resulted in two primary findings. First, formerly evicted mothers face greater levels of hardship than other mothers, leading to bouts of depression, and declining health for both themselves and their children. These problems stem from their inability to attain fundamental resources such as medical care. The study also found that evicted mothers continue to face higher rates of hardship and depression than their peers up to at least two years after the eviction. Overall, the study shows that eviction detrimentally effects an individual’s physical and mental wellbeing.


California Commission on Access to Justice, The Cost Effectiveness of Legal Aid and Societal Benefits of the Services Provided (2001)

Poverty creates a loss of opportunity, and perhaps nowhere does that pose more risk than where that loss of opportunity intersects with the legal system.  The wrong legal strategy, or none at all, can cause a family to be evicted from their home despite the fact that the eviction was illegal, can cause a woman to go without the protection of a restraining order, putting herself and her children in greater jeopardy, or deny a caretaker relative and a child much needed benefits because they lack the ability to petition for a guardianship.  Often those who most need legal assistance are the least able to afford it.

This is where Nonprofits come in.  Nonprofit legal aid programs across California provide cost-effective legal help to low-income Californians facing critical legal issues that affect their families, their health and safety, their shelter and opportunities for education, and their future.  The work of legal services programs greatly benefits the state, and society in general, sometimes in ways that are obvious, such as reducing homelessness, but often in ways that are more subtle and unexpected.

This report focuses on work being done by local legal aid programs, and the beneficial impact of those services on the state.  In addition to representation of the indigent, legal aid programs educate the public about the law, advise individuals about the law and about their options including alternatives to litigation; help negotiate settlements; assist community groups with legal help to achieve community economic development; and provide input to courts and government agencies on improvements to the system.  Legal aid programs also leverage public and private contributions through the recruitment of volunteer attorneys, paralegals, and other professionals.