After years of advocacy from local nonprofits, Long Beach council members unanimously approved a recommendation that will bring $250,000 in legal services to tenants facing evictions.
“Free legal services are a bedrock of good justice programs within a community,” Mayor Robert Garcia said. “I can recall moments when my own family has had to access free legal services because of not having the same resources to attorneys.”
Tenant right-to-counsel has been a hot topic in Long Beach in recent months, particularly as residents came to city council meetings with stories of unlawful 60-day notices and tenant harassment, despite a citywide eviction moratorium.
During public comment, Long Beach Forward organizer Andrew Mandujano pointed out that most tenants go without legal representation in eviction hearings.
Tenants who believe themselves to be illegally evicted must take their case to civil court. Unlike criminal court hearings, they are not provided with free legal representation.
In these cases, 90% of landlords have legal representation, while only 10% of tenants have legal representation, according to a study by the Wisconsin-Madison Institute for Research on Poverty.
“Without representation, the majority of tenants lose their cases and are ultimately evicted,” Mandujano said. “It’s disheartening to see children and their families viewed as business transactions, instead of humans who deserve the right to be housed.”
Long Beach is a majority renter city where over half the population’s renters spend more than 30% of their income on rent. These renters are also disproportionately Latino, African American, Cambodian and Filipino, according to a staff report.
During public comment, Elaine Hutchison, owner and manager of rental properties in Long Beach, suggested using half the $250,000 fund to help landlords understand new harassment policies.
Other residents took their recommendations a step farther, stating that the funding should be completely reallocated to provide direct support for restaurant workers.
“Let’s be clear what this program is: it’s a right to counsel for tenants,” Garcia said after public comment. “It’s an opportunity for folks that need access to legal services to have those. These are lower-income, that need assistance.”
The program itself isn’t new, the $250,000 allocation was unanimously approved in the 2021 fiscal year budget.
The item represents the first step in drafting a memorandum of understanding with the County of Los Angeles Department of Consumer and Business Affairs, which will assist in managing the program.
Rather than create a program from scratch, the City of Long Beach will utilize the legal teams already under contract with Los Angeles County, led by the Los Angeles Legal Aid Foundation and the Liberty Hill Foundation.
City council members unanimously voted in favor of the recommendation.
The next city council meeting will take place on Tuesday, Dec. 25 via teleconference.