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January 26, 2023

Philadelphia expands legal service for low-income renters facing eviction

Starting on Feb.1, the Right to Counsel initiative will open to eligible tenants living in zip codes 19134 and 19144

Government Housing
Right to Counsel expands to 19134 and 19144 Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

The City of Philadelphia is expanding its Right to Counsel initiative to include two more zip codes. Starting Feb. 1, eligible tenants living in zip codes 19134 and 19144 are entitled to free legal representation if they are facing eviction.

More renters facing eviction will soon be able to access legal services in Philadelphia. The city announced Thursday the expansion of free legal counsel to tenants living in zip codes 19134 and 19144.

Starting on Feb.1, low-income renters living in those areas can access the services, provided under the Right to Counsel law. The zip codes cover the neighborhoods of Kensington, Germantown, East Germantown and Port Richmond.

To qualify for free legal services, renters must have an income of at or below 200% of the federal poverty level and live in an eligible zip code. Free counsel is available for eviction proceedings, lease termination proceedings and PHA housing subsidy termination proceedings.

"The eviction crisis disproportionately affects communities of color, particularly Black female tenants," Eva Gladstein, first deputy managing director for the city, said. "That is why access to free legal representation for low-income households, which helps level the playing field, is so important. It is a critical resource for keeping tenants in their homes and limiting disruption in the lives of families. The city is committed to scaling this program, and this expansion brings Philadelphia one step closer to making this right available citywide."

To spread awareness of the service, the city will host two resource fairs in Germantown and Kensington. The first will be held at PA CareerLink at 5847 Germantown Ave on Saturday, Feb. 4 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. The second will take place on Feb. 11, but the time and location are to be determined.

The Right to Counsel law was passed in 2019, providing guaranteed legal representation, and the program was officially enacted in December 2021.

It rolled out in February last year in the zip codes 19121 and 19139, representing a large swath of West Philadelphia along with Brewerytown, Sharswood and Cecil B. Moore. The first four zip codes for the initiative were selected after consulting with the non-profit organization the Reinvestment Fund to determine areas with the highest overall number of evictions and proportion of families living in poverty. Once more funding is available, the program will expand throughout Philadelphia. 

According to Princeton's Eviction Lab, monthly eviction filings in Philadelphia averaged 1,186 last year, with rates trending highest in August and September. The Eviction Lab has recorded 331 filings so far for 2023.

The overwhelming majority of eviction filings in the city are due to missed rent payments.

"Right to Counsel, along with the Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project and our Eviction Diversion Program, has made Philadelphia a national leader in preventing homelessness and displacement," Kadeem Morris, an attorney for Community Legal Services, said. "These programs have kept people safe at home during the pandemic, stabilized families in crisis, and leveled the playing field to ensure tenants have access to justice."

To access legal counsel, interested parties can call the city's Philly Tenant Hotline at (267)-443-2500. They can also head to the Community Legal Services office, located at 1424 Chestnut Street, between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m. on Mondays through Thursdays. 

The Philadelphia Eviction Protection Project, established in 2018, also provides legal advice and potential legal services to tenants in Philadelphia. You can access their website for more information.