Implementing New York City’s Universal Access to Counsel Program: Lessons for Other Jurisdictions

New York City’s UAC has generated substantial interest as other jurisdictions across the U.S. consider or implement similar programs. In June 2018, San Francisco voters approved a ballot initiative requiring the city to establish, fund, and run a program to provide legal representation to all tenants facing eviction regardless of income. The Los Angeles City Council approved a motion in August 2018 instructing the housing department to develop recommendations for a new eviction defense bill or program.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Washington, D.C.; and Newark, New Jersey, as well as other cities throughout the country, have increased funding for legal assistance to tenants and are now implementing or considering expansions in their programs. Recognizing the national interest in expanded access to counsel for tenants in eviction cases and the groundbreaking nature of New York City’s UAC, the NYU Furman Center has spent the past year observing the implementation of the program.

We visited Housing Court facilities across the city, watched how UAC is working, and observed how it is changing practices in those courts. We spoke with members of the judiciary, representatives from legal services providers participating in the UAC program, members of the landlords’ bar, tenant organizers, and other tenant advocates about the challenges and opportunities that implementing the program has posed. To better understand the challenges tenants face and their views about the need for counsel, we interviewed more than 100 tenants, most of whom appeared in Housing Court without counsel and did not live in the zip codes currently covered by the UAC program.