Organizing is Different Now: How the Right to Counsel Strengthens the Tenant Movement in New York City


On March 22, 2022, the Right to Counsel NYC Coalition (RTCNYC)  and TakeRoot released “Organizing is Different Now: How the Right to Counsel Strengthens the Tenant Movement in New York City“. The report documents the impact of Right to Counsel on tenant organizing among low-income tenants across the City.  

In 2017, after a three-year long grassroots campaign, RTCNYC led New York City to become the first city in the nation to establish a Right to Counsel for low-income tenants facing eviction. Four years after the win, RTCNYC and TakeRoot embarked on this participatory action research project in which tenants and housing organizers were trained to facilitate focus groups to explore the impact of Right to Counsel on their lives and on the organizing landscape in the City. 

Existing data show that since Right to Counsel became a law in New York City, eviction rates have dropped, and legal representation rates for tenants rates are higher than before the law passed. Our new research demonstrates that these metrics are not the full picture. The report documents the ways in which Right to Counsel strengthens the tenant movement and organizing infrastructure in New York City. Findings from the focus groups show that Right to Counsel strengthens organizing in a variety of ways; it serves as a know-your-rights tool, opens the door to new organizing tactics and strategies, and creates opportunities for tenants, organizers, and attorneys to navigate relationships and share knowledge and history, all in the service of building the tenants’ rights movement. Tenants shared that they feel less stress and fear knowing they have the right to legal representation in court, which helps them navigate housing court with confidence and success and prompts them to take action against their landlords. The focus groups also illuminated how RTCNYC is deliberate and successful in creating and sustaining a tenant-led infrastructure and movement-building spaces. 

This new research will be used to advance organizing efforts to with the Right to Counsel statewide in New York. We hope that the findings also inspire tenants nationwide to fight for and win Right to Counsel in their cities, that organizers and advocates find the reflections about coalition-building helpful in their own fights and that attorneys heed the call to join and support the tenant movement.

Read the full report here.