7. Building Our Case

A press conference promoting Right to Counsel

These tools are designed to help you demonstrate the need for Right to Counsel to a variety of audiences. From numerical data to expert testimony to the voices of tenants, these tools help demonstrate the problems that exist and make the case for Right to Counsel as the solution.

Included are:

  • Data Points to Collect to Build the Case for Right to Counsel: This tool includes a list of data points that were used by our coalition to make the case for Right to Counsel.
  • “Right to Counsel-The Facts!” Video: Demonstrates how to make the case for Right to Counsel using video, which can be circulated online to reach a wide variety of audiences. We’re also including the script of the video, which you can revise to include facts and demographics about your city.
  • “Housing Justice: What the Experts Are Saying on New Yorker’s Right to Counsel in Evictions Proceedings”: Developed after a public forum organized by the Coalition. Public forums can be a critical way to get the word out and engage stakeholders, and follow-up reports such as this one show how a one-time forum can be documented for future and broader use.
  • “Housing Justice: New Yorkers Should Have a Right to Counsel in Evictions Proceedings”: A fact sheet that includes key points about why the Right to Counsel is needed and what the legislation would accomplish.
  • Map of Evictions and Rent Regulated Units in New York City: Designed as a visual demonstration of the eviction crisis and its impact on diminishing rent regulated housing stock in NYC.
  • AARP Video: Produced by one of our campaign members, demonstrating the importance and impact of engaging a variety of stakeholders in the fight for Right to Counsel, and the importance of the legislation to a particular community.
  • Cost and Savings Report: Demonstrating a clear, compelling case for the cost savings of implementing Right to Counsel in New York City.

“Right to Counsel-The Facts!” Video

Our coalition found that multimedia materials were crucial in getting our message out to a variety of audiences across different platforms. This tool demonstrates how to make the case for the importance of Right to Counsel using video, which can be circulated online to reach a wide variety of audiences. Videos such as this are a great opportunity to engage tenant leaders in new ways in your campaign. We played this video at our inaugural RTC forum event to help frame and ground the conversation. A college intern put this video together for us! We recommend looking within your coalition for people who are willing and able to donate their skills.

In order to create this video, we developed a script with a small group of tenant leaders and then we had coalition members fact check the script. We then broke up the script into small sections that individual tenants could read and we printed them in big font on card stock (exactly like the ones you see in the video!), with numbers on the back so we could keep track of the order. Based on the sections, we knew how many tenants we would need for the video. We then organized tenants from the Bronx to go to a housing court reform meeting in Brooklyn. At that meeting, we did a brief teach-in about RTC and the purpose of the video, and then asked tenants if they wanted to be in a video. The volunteers stepped out of their meeting into another room where we shot the video. While tenants stood in front of the camera, and organizer stood facing them, so they could read the content on the cards. Once they did their part, they return to their meeting. When tenants practiced their parts, that was their first time! In terms of preparation and production, producing the video this way was relatively easy! We also had the script translated into Spanish and then added Spanish subtitles to the video. Note- press “CC” on the bottom of the screen to get the Spanish subtitles.

“What the Experts are Saying” Report from Right To Counsel Forums

In 2014, our coalition organized an all-day forum called Housing Justice: A Public Forum on New Yorkers’ Right to Counsel in Eviction Proceedings hosted by the Impact Center for Public Interest Law at New York Law School. The forum was an opportunity to make the case for Right to Counsel and engage a variety of stakeholders. We carefully planned the forum to make sure a wide range of voices were represented, such as academics, judges, politicians and tenants. To capitalize on the forum beyond a one-time event, this report was developed to document the wide range of perspectives supporting RTC, to create new press opportunities by having a report release event, and to be used broadly as an outreach and advocacy tool. We sent the report to each council member, along with a letter asking for support for the legislation. We also held a press conference in front of Manhattan Housing Court to release the report.

In order to produce the report, the event was videotaped. An intern then transcribed the video of the conference and then coalition members picked out key quotes and important information and worked with the intern to compile the content of the report. The report was designed by a staff member of a coalition member group and we were able to get a labor union to cover the cost of printing the report. It can serve as a model for others hosting similar community forums.

Fact Sheet: “Housing Justice: New Yorkers Should Have a Right to Counsel in Evictions Proceedings”

This fact sheet is designed to demonstrate the need for the right to counsel, the impact the legislation would have, the economic case for passing the right, and the urgency of passing the legislation.The fact sheet includes some of the key data points that our coalition collected. Because it covers an array of information, it has multiple uses for multiple audiences: community meetings, institutional allies, elected officials, media, etc. While the information included is specific to New York, we invite you to use it both as an example and as a template for your own coalition’s work.

Map of Evictions and Rent Regulated Units in New York City

Mapping can be an engaging and accessible way to visually represent the importance of Right to Counsel. In New York City, evictions are not only destabilizing and traumatic for individuals and communities, but they are also a tool used by landlords to seek higher profits for their rental stock. Landlords seek to evict tenants in rent regulated apartments so that they can raise the rent for future renters, once those apartments have been vacated by the original tenants. This map demonstrates the relationship between high eviction rates and areas dense with rent-regulated housing, helping to support the argument that evictions are a business model rather than a compilation of individual cases. It positions the Right to Counsel not only as a tool against evictions but as a tool to preserve rent regulated housing, fight gentrification and stop landlord harassment. This map was created by one of our coalition members! This issue may be important in your city or state as well, or other issues may lend themselves well to visualizing with maps. If your coalition includes or has connections to people with mapping skills, you can approach them to help you create maps such as this one.

AARP Video

This video, produced by one of our campaign members, demonstrates the importance and impact of engaging a variety of stakeholders in the fight for the Right to Counsel. AARP has a wide and influential audience, and their engagement in the campaign meant that the Right to Counsel message had a broad reach. Your coalition can consider the engagement of allies such as AARP who are focused on particular communities that are impacted by the eviction crisis.

Cost and Savings Report and Summary

In our organizing around Right to Counsel, the potential cost of implementing the legislation was frequently raised by those opposed to it. In NYC, any legislation that has a fiscal impact has to undergo an analysis by the Independent Budget Office (“IBO”). However we weren’t satisfied with the IBO’s report because we didn’t think it covered issues that we thought were central to RTC, like shelter savings and the construction of new affordable housing. We started to strategize internally about how to produce an alternate costs savings report and we began reaching out to members of our coalition for ideas. Ultimately the City Bar Association, who had a relationship with the financial firm Stout Risius Ross, was able to commission them to produce an in-depth cost benefit analysis on a pro bono basis. This was crucial because neither the Bar Association nor the financial firm were members of the coalition, which meant that they were relatively neutral parties.

A coalition ally read through the full report and distilled it down to two pages, so that we could use the summary and the full report in our organizing and advocacy work. This shorter document allowed us to make a clear and compelling case for the cost savings of implementing Right to Counsel, giving us a concrete counter argument to those pushing back.

Your coalition could use this report as a model for your own context. If your coalition includes or has access to those with expertise in such financial assessments, you can approach them to help you create documents such as this one.