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City Funds Legal Assistance To Ease Eviction Crisis

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Tenants in Philadelphia will get the help they need to avoid being evicted, with the passage of $500,000 in city funding for legal assistance.

The money was added to the budget after city council hearings that described an eviction "crisis."

More than 41,000 renters were evicted in 2014 and 2015. City planner Anne Fadullon says that's one in seven.

"One is too many. One in seven is a crisis," she said.

READ: Lawyers Could Ease Philadelphia 'Eviction Crisis,' Council Members Hear

One of the biggest reasons is that renters, legally, stop paying rent until landlords fix substandard conditions, but landlords instead take them to court, where the landlords have lawyers but 92% of tenants don't.

At a March hearing, many witnesses said changing that dynamic alone would ease the crisis.

Councilwoman Helen Gym says the funding will do that.

"With this funding, Philadelphia's joining the forefront of a national movement," she said.

Yasmin Vazquez Tenant Landlord
Yazmin Vazquez speaks at the funding announcement. (credit: Pat Loeb)

Yasmin Vazquez knows the importance of having an attorney in landlord tenant court. Her landlord tried to evict her when she stopped paying rent because of intolerable conditions in her apartment.

When Vazquez showed up with a pro-bono attorney from Community Legal Services:

"He said he had a family emergency, withdrew the case and walked out. He never refiled it," Vazquez said.

The city hopes to open up bidding for the money this summer.

Rasheedah Phillips of Community Legal Services, which represents about 2,000 tenants a year, at no cost to them, says it will make a difference.

"There's still a lot of work, of course, to be done to insure that Philadelphians can access safe, stable, and affordable housing, but CLS and our partners stand ready to fight for that fairness," Phillips said. "Thank you again. I can't thank you enough. This is really an extraordinary moment for our city, I think."

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