This studio worked with the Right to Counsel NYC Coalition to collect, analyze and narrate data pertaining to tenant experiences in the housing court process. RTCNYC is made up of tenant organizing groups, tenant advocates, legal service providers, homeless advocates, and a broad array of allies working to guarantee legal representation for tenants facing eviction in housing court. In 2017, after years of organizing, RTCNYC won a campaign for what is now Local Law 136, and this year, RTCNYC is organizing the second phase of its campaign to address these issues. The “Right to Counsel, Power to Organize” campaign calls on the City Council to pass two bills: Intro 1104 (increasing the income eligibility level of free legal representation) and Intro 1529 (calling for the city to fund tenant organizing groups to conduct outreach and educate tenants about their rights). Our primary objective with this studio project is to shine a light on the narratives and lived experiences of tenants who have come into contact with the housing court system in order to support the campaign.
The studio conducted background research of scholarly articles, news, and advocacy group reports to frame our research; created and administered a survey to tenants in housing courts in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan; and conducted in-depth interviews with tenants to answer the following questions on behalf of the client:
1. Who is in housing court as a defendant in eviction cases?
2. What is the extent of their knowledge of resources available to them and which resources do tenants access?
3. What housing issues have tenants faced previous to this case?
4. What are the primary sources, histories, and personal impacts of housing instability for tenants in housing court?
The Impact of Covid-19
For 9 months, the studio researched housing court and evictions in New York City. The spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) this Spring has dramatically upended previous conceptions and realities of the political, social and economic landscape of the city, with many unknowns and uncertainties in how we move forward. However, what this crisis has made abundantly clear is the precariousness of our economy and inadequacies of our social safety net, particularly around housing. As this pandemic illustrates, housing is healthcare, and having a safe, healthy and dignified place of residence is critical to issues of public health. This is particularly relevant when thinking about the existing inequalities that are deeply embedded in our housing system; while the virus itself does not discriminate, the disproportionate racial impacts are widely noted, revealing underlying housing vulnerabilities, discrimination and segregation throughout boroughs such as the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn.
The studio’s report should serve as a guide in these devastating times; research on evictions is more relevant than ever. These tenants’ stories should highlight pitfalls of our housing court system before and during COVID-19. While tenant organizers, associations and regular renters decide to participate in the growing city and statewide rent strike, the Studio hopes this report will move the needle and put pressure on elected officials to act NOW, not later, for New Yorkers.