Governor John Carney expands DE tenant access to legal counsel in housing budget
DELAWARE – “When one side has some sort of legal representation and the other side doesn’t, we’re less likely to accomplish justice,” Atkins said.
Governor John Carney dedicating $1.5 million of his proposed FY 2024 budget as a possible solution to ensure Delaware tenant’s facing eviction have the right to representation. “Once you are evicted and you go to court, any defenses available to a renter are virtually impossible to prove without the aid of a lawyer. You really have to know law,” Rich said.
“Often times tenants won’t even bother to show up because they’re so apprehensive about the process. That’s not good for anyone,” Atkins said.
ACLU Delaware Policy & Advocacy Director Javonne Rich says Governor Carney’s move will help level the playing field and shows his commitment to making sure no Delawarean goes unhoused.
We’re told renters without legal assistance are often times unable to maintain their housing or settle these financial disputes in a fair manner.
Rich says that when tenants are represented, they’re twice as likely to remain housed. “If you think about your home, that’s one of the most basic needs. Shelter, right? It’s where you can feel safe, your belongings have safety, your children are safe,” Rich said.
Advocacy organizations like the Community Legal Aid Society of Delaware hope to intervene before matters make it to court, using resources like the Eviction Diversion Program. “The idea is that after the landlord files for an eviction, the parties have to come together in front of a trained mediator and try to work the case out amicably and not in court,” Executive Director Daniel Atkins said.
The Community Legal Aid Society, Inc. (CLASI) provides free legal services to at risk Delawareans.
Atkins says 18,000 evictions were filled per year in Delaware prior to the pandemic. That number now sits at around 12,000 but is slowly on the rise. “The eviction moratoriums have been lifted and ERAP funds are about to run out. If we sit back and do nothing, we will get back to that to that pre-pandemic eviction filing rate,” Atkins said.
Atkins says those public health measures taken in the pandemic are what kept Delaware from an eviction crisis but that could soon be a reality with much of those ending or already ended.
On top of Governor John Carney’s efforts, lawmakers recently introduced Senate Bill 1 in the General Assembly which would guarantee a right to representation for low-income renters facing eviction.