This is the property of the Daily Journal Corporation and fully protected by copyright. It is made available only to Daily Journal subscribers for personal or collaborative purposes and may not be distributed, reproduced, modified, stored or transferred without written permission. Please click "Reprint" to order presentation-ready copies to distribute to clients or use in commercial marketing materials or for permission to post on a website. and copyright (showing year of publication) at the bottom.

Real Estate,

Mar. 29, 2024

Lawyers Preventing Homelessness

Surveys find that between 11% and 45% of people experiencing homelessness report eviction as a primary cause of their homelessness.

Adam Murray

Executive Director, Inner City Law Center

Inner City Law Center serves over 5,000 homeless and working poor clients each year from its offices on Skid Row.


“I was kicked out of my home.” “I lost my apartment.” “My landlord evicted me.” When I ask my Inner City Law Center clients who are living on the streets about their descent into homelessness, they share heart-breaking stories about health challenges, lost jobs, and families breaking apart. But one recurring theme persists: eviction.

Surveys find that between 11% and 45% of people experiencing homelessness report eviction as a primary cause of their homelessness. “The Quarterly Journal of Economics” recently confirmed this intuitive link, reporting that receiving an eviction order in New York City or Cook County (which includes Chicago) increased someone’s probability of emergency shelter use the following year by over 300%.

The United States evicts far more tenants than other developed countries. Most of these evictions—and the ensuing homelessness—would be avoided if tenants were represented by lawyers.

Decades ago, UCLA Law Professor Gary Blasi reviewed a random sample of 151 cases in which unrepresented tenants had asserted facts that, if proven, should have defeated the eviction claim. All these tenants lost and were evicted from their homes.

Contrast that with the first six months of a San Francisco program that provided lawyers to tenants facing eviction—67% of represented tenants remained in their homes. In New York City, which passed a right to counsel in 2017, 84% of represented tenants remain in their homes.

The connection between eviction and homelessness does not bode well for Los Angeles, where, last year, landlords filed 47,625 evictions. With the recent expiration of COVID-era protections, evictions are rising even more. Unless we do something to stem this tidal wave of evictions, homelessness is going to get worse.

Luckily, help is on the way. Recognizing that the best way to end homelessness is to prevent it from happening in the first place, Los Angeles is

poised to join four states and seventeen cities in establishing a right to legal counsel for tenants facing eviction.

The L.A. City Council unanimously requested that the City Attorney draft an ordinance that would establish a right to counsel in eviction proceedings for tenants making up to 80% of Area Median Income ($78,560 for a family of four). The ordinance will likely call for this right to be phased in by zip code over the next five years. Measure ULA, which the voters passed by 58% in November of 2022, provides a dedicated funding source for these legal services.

Similarly, L.A. County Supervisors unanimously requested that a right to counsel ordinance for the unincorporated parts of the County be brought before them in May. Signatures are currently being gathered for the Affordable Housing, Homelessness Solutions, and Prevention Now ballot initiative, which would, among other things, include dedicated funding for a County-wide right to counsel.

Legal representation is particularly effective when paired with rental subsidies. The Census Bureau estimates that 25,079 households in the Los Angeles metropolitan area with incomes under $25,000 are “very likely” to be evicted from their homes in the next two months. Keeping these families off the streets will require both legal representation and rental assistance.

Help is coming on this front as well. The L.A. City Housing Department has recommended dedicating more than $140 million of the funds projected to be generated by Measure ULA to provide short-term emergency rental assistance and income support in the upcoming fiscal year.

Right to counsel programs are popular. A 2021 survey of likely voters in the forty largest cities in the United States found that 81% of voters, including 70% of Republicans, support a right to counsel in eviction proceedings. While people disagree about the ideal distribution of rights and responsibilities between landlords and tenants, most of us agree that existing rules should be applied equitably.

That is not happening—and we all pay the cost when these evictions lead to homelessness. “The Quarterly Journal of Economics” study mentioned above found that, in the year after filing, eviction decreases incomes by 8%, increases hospital visits by 29%, and increases visits for mental health-related conditions by 133%. We can do better. By providing legal counsel to tenants facing eviction, we can keep many more people in their homes.


Submit your own column for publication to Diana Bosetti

For reprint rights or to order a copy of your photo:

Email for prices.
Direct dial: 949-702-5390

Send a letter to the editor: