In a significant move to address the ongoing eviction crisis, St. Louis lawmakers approved a groundbreaking plan on Friday that would allocate funds for attorneys to represent tenants facing eviction proceedings. The bill, which now awaits the approval of Mayor Tishaura Jones, aims to establish a “Right to Counsel” program for tenants in the city who are at risk of losing their homes. The plan appropriates $285,000 in federal Covid-19 funds and tasks the Department of Human Services with collaborating with nonprofits and law firms to provide legal representation. The legislation, which received overwhelming support from the city council, with Alderwoman Sharon Tyus casting the lone opposing vote, seeks to empower tenants who have often been voiceless and taken advantage of in eviction cases.
The program does not target good landlords, as clarified by bill sponsor Shameem Clark Hubbard, the alderwoman of the 10th Ward. On the contrary, it aims to level the playing field and ensure that tenants have access to legal counsel to protect their rights. Under the proposed plan, an additional employee would be hired by the Department of Human Services to facilitate the implementation of the program. The attorneys, made available by July 1, 2024, will be prioritized for tenants residing in areas of the city with the highest number of evictions.
This approach acknowledges the disproportionate impact of eviction on certain communities and aims to provide support where it is most urgently needed. Furthermore, the legislation mandates that landlords filing for eviction must provide their tenants with information about their right to counsel simultaneously.
This provision aims to ensure that tenants are aware of their rights and have access to legal representation from the onset of the eviction process. By establishing a “Right to Counsel” program, St. Louis is taking a progressive step towards addressing the eviction crisis and promoting fairness in the justice system. This initiative recognizes the need to provide vulnerable tenants with legal support and aims to prevent homelessness by offering a lifeline during challenging times. As the bill now heads to Mayor Tishaura Jones for her consideration, it represents a promising opportunity to safeguard tenants’ rights and bring much-needed relief to those facing eviction in St. Louis.