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CT's Right to Counsel program inspires proposed federal bill for people facing eviction

Members of the UlLA stream in and out of the home of Juana Valle and her family as they move from their apartment of 10 years to another after her eviction in New Haven, Connecticut January 30, 2023.
Joe Amon
Connecticut Public
Members of the UlLA stream in and out of the home of Juana Valle and her family as they move from their apartment of 10 years to another after her eviction in New Haven, Connecticut January 30, 2023.

A newly proposed federal bill, which provides free legal counsel for low-income residents facing eviction, was inspired by groundbreaking legislation in Connecticut.

The Right to Counsel began in Connecticut last January. It provides free legal aid to residents from select zip codes. Since the program began, about 4,000 residents have received legal representation. At the time of Right to Counsel’s passage, Connecticut was the third state in the nation to provide free legal representation for people facing eviction.

The proposed Eviction Prevention Act, introduced to Congress this week by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat, would essentially extend Connecticut’s Right to Counsel program nationwide.

“My home state of Connecticut has already enacted a Right to Counsel and in just a short amount of time, we have kept people in their home,” DeLauro said. “The Eviction Prevention Act would build on this success and expand this critically needed program nationwide.”

Connecticut’s Right to Counsel program is operated by the Connecticut Bar Foundation, of which Angela Schlingheyde is the executive director.

The program was initially funded with $20 million in federal pandemic relief funds, but once those dollars expire, the state will need to find money in the budget for the program.

If the proposed federal legislation passes, it would enable the state to use a more reliable source of funding, Schlingheyde said.

“It would give us access to federal dollars for the program that could help us increase the capacity of the current program that we have, as well as maybe alleviate some of the fiscal burden on the state of Connecticut itself,” Schlingheyde said.

Between January and November 2022, the Connecticut saved about $6 million through Right to Counsel by saving on expenses the state would pay after an eviction, including mental health and shelter services, Schlingheyde said.

“We're either spending it ahead of time ... to help support our residents in the state of Connecticut and help them maintain safe housing for them and their families, or the state is spending the money on all of these negative outcomes,” Schlingheyde said.

Abigail is Connecticut Public's housing reporter, covering statewide housing developments and issues, with an emphasis on Fairfield County communities. She received her master's from Columbia University in 2020 and graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2019. Abigail previously covered statewide transportation and the city of Norwalk for Hearst Connecticut Media. She loves all things Disney and cats.

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