Baraka proposal will give renters free legal help during eviction

Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Tuesday a proposed ordinance to help low income residents in Newark to receive legal counsel during evictions.

Newark, NJ–Mayor Ras J. Baraka and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a proposed ordinance that will provide low income residents in Newark with free legal representation in landlord-tenant disputes during eviction proceedings.

Baraka said he felt inspired by de Blasio’s existing legislation and he reached out to the NYC mayor to discuss how to implement similar assistance in the city of Newark.

Baraka said he is excited to start to program to help the most vulnerable members of the community, including the disabled, undocumented and elderly.

“We estimate that the number of people to be eligible to be about 10,000,” Baraka said, adding that the program will be rolled out in September. “Structurally we’ll have everything together by then.”

The program would cost somewhere between $750,000 to a million dollars to hire five to 10 attorneys. City officials said they are still hashing out if the city would be able to pay to assist residents who aren’t city employees. In the meantime, the program will be kicked off by attorneys and groups willing to use pro bono hours to help Newark residents.

More than 78 percent of Newark residents are renters and about 40,000 eviction cases are filed in Essex County Landlord Tenant court annually. Half of those involve low- to moderate-income Newark residents. The ordinance aims to protect tenants who otherwise would be voiceless and without legal representation.

“Under my administration, we have created an Affordable Housing Ordinance that enables residents to locate and move into quality affordable housing throughout the city of Newark,” Baraka said. “Now we are working to ensure that our residents can keep those homes, by supporting them in disputes against landlords who want to abuse or game the legal system to their own advantage. We will level the playing field to defend residents who are most at-risk, by bringing our resources to bear, an insure equality and justice for all.”

de Blasio’s visit to Newark comes with less than a week to go before the city’s municipal election, in which Baraka is facing Central Ward Councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins, who said she "wholeheartedly" supports the mayor’s proposed ordinance.

"We have a fairly large population of low income residents who are often without the resources available to fight for their rights in disadvantageous situations with landlords," Chaneyfield Jenkins said. "This isn’t about another press conference. I’ve always stood for justice and equity for the citizens of Newark, and it’s our duty as elected officials to continue to find ways to help those most in need. I’m glad the mayor is beginning to focus on issues that I’ve always stood for and urged the leadership to take seriously. Our next focus should look at how to better assist our homeless population who are suffering from even more inequities in Newark.”

The proposed ordinance is supported by the Ironbound Community Corporation, Rutgers University – Newark, New Community Corporation, McCarter & English, and Essex Newark Legal Services.

“I guarantee it’s a historic day for Newark,” de Blasio said. “When people can stay in their homes. When people can avoid illegal eviction. When a family can stay together that’s historic.”

Last August, the City of New York signed into law the Right to Counsel, mandating universal access to legal representation for low-income tenants. de Blasio said cities all over the country are facing this profound problem and that for far too long many tenants were left defenseless when they faced eviction notices unfairly.

“The power of offering legal counsel is it levels the playing field,” said de Blasio. “Landlords will know better than to try to get an illegal eviction that they used to be able to get away with.”

de Blasio said over the course of years this ordinance would end up allowing thousands of people to remain in their homes. de Blasio commended Baraka for the progress he’s made during his term and referred to him as a “progressive champion.”

“We want to see the children stay in their homes,” said de Blasio. “This is a game changer for Newark. Thanks to Mayor Baraka a lot of illegal evictions will be stopped. That’s a new day for Newark.”

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