Right to Counsel Update

January 15, 2024

Right to Counsel Update

The Right to Counsel (RTC) continues to run into significant setbacks as the administration fails to adequately fund implementation of the ordinance and neglects major requirements of the ordinance.   

The RTC ordinance was passed unanimously by City Council in May 2022.  Detroit renters who have incomes at 200% of the federal poverty level are eligible for full legal representation at no cost to them. This is important because full legal representation means that renters facing eviction are legally entitled to a free attorney they can consult with, plan a defense with, and have represent them in eviction court. One of the most important features of the RTC ordinances is to have a fully funded ordinance. Without full funding, legal service providers are unable to hire enough attorneys to represent all eligible renters.

The Detroit Right to Counsel Coalition estimates about $29 million per year is needed to adequately provide full legal representation. Together with state and federal resources, the City of Detroit has allocated only $20 million over three years for implementation. Without additional funds, thousands of Detroiters will face eviction without adequate legal representation.

The administration has also failed to faithfully carry out the required Annual Community Meeting. Sec. 22-10-6 of the City Code requires that, no sooner than 30 days before a public meeting, notice is to be provided in English, Spanish, and Arabic. The meeting is to provide for discussion, dialogue, or comment with community members regarding the implementation of the RTC ordinance. However, in place of the required Public Meeting, on November 13th, a “community meeting” was included in the agenda for the All Neighborhoods  Department of Neighborhoods call. The RTC item was third on the agenda and, with only 30 minutes initially planned for the discussion.  

Finally, the administration has failed in its duty to inform low-income renters of the availability of RTC and the free legal services in housing court. The RTC program has so far failed to advance this critical access information to clients facing eviction. In addition, the most recent Request for Proposal (RFP) related to the RTC program is for $150,000 to develop a phone app. It’s unclear that in the absence of the preferred citywide education program, what impact the phone app will have that ensures eligible Detroiters are aware of the RTC program.