On May 5, the City Council unanimously approved the right to counsel for tenants facing eviction in court, after approving $2 million for the initiative last year. This ordinance comes as New Orleans faces a major, long-brewing housing crisis which has been heightened by the pandemic. Over the past six months, rent has increased an average 8% in New Orleans, tying with Miami for highest rental increase in the country. According to Nola.com, “New Orleans renters pay an average of 61% of income on housing, one of the highest in the U.S.” All public comments—two in-person and 18 online—were in favor of the ordinance, with some pushing for even further support from the Council.
Our court system is complex, and too many people have been pushed out of their homes because of rising prices. If we don’t have any kind of rent control we must at the very least give our residents a fair shot in court.11 Zoe J.
Guaranteed right to counsel is the bare minimum for addressing the housing rent crisis in our city. I’m grossly disappointed in our city leaders for allowing landlords to continually violate tenants’ rights. Every person deserves to understand the case against them and have an attorney counsel them to increase the likelihood that they live in safe housing, and they won’t lose their housing. In the past week on my daily walks with my dog I have seen six families evicted, and the remnants of the possessions of our community members left behind on the sidewalk, and families moving into vehicles because they have nowhere else to go.22 Kelly S.
Since I moved here in 1982, working at Charity, my first apartment was right in the middle of the French Quarter… at $220 a month… Many things have happened in New Orleans since then: Katrina, Ida, the pandemic, runaway inflation more recently, the Airbnb proliferation, demolition of public housing. All these things have affected affordable housing… They say you’re only supposed to spend 30-35% of your income on housing. For lower working class people, it’s a lot harder, it’s a lot more than that… We have to focus not only on legal counsel—I think this is important—but we need to make housing affordable for working class people.33 Ben G.
In a city like New Orleans, with little rental protections, I also hope that this ordinance expedites the conversation around reestablishing the Healthy Homes Ordinance and drafting a formal renter bill of rights that includes additional wrap-around services for renters who have been traumatized by the housing insecurity. While we always believe that you must put housing first, we also know that housing is the foundation, and the first step in creating a just and equitable New Orleans.44 Leah L.
Evictions were an emergency before the pandemic and Hurricane Ida and they will continue to be a crisis as we recover. As rent prices increase, it’s harder than ever to find affordable housing in New Orleans. Families who are evicted will struggle to find somewhere to go. Right to counsel programs decrease evictions and homelessness, save cities and stabilize families. It’s very important to me that Right to Counsel in eviction court is continued. 55. Mary P.
Please continue to protect our community members and neighbors by upholding the right to counsel. Eviction can have lifelong consequences and anyone facing eviction must be given all means possible of protecting themselves and their families.66. Haley B.
To follow up on this issue, you can email your City councilmembers. To submit a public comment, follow instructions at council.nola.gov. Interested in reading all comments after a meeting? You can email your councilmember or file a public records request.
illustration by Sadie Wiese