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Tenant advocacy groups set to receive funding under ‘Right to Counsel’ program

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With the passage of Proposition F in June, San Francisco became the first city in California to create a universal counsel program for renters facing eviction. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

A total of $5.8 million has been secured over the next two years to implement a voter-approved program that will ensure San Francisco renters in eviction proceedings can get legal representation.

The passage of Proposition F in June paved the way for San Francisco to become the only city in the state to create a Right To Counsel (TRC) program, which provides universal counsel to all tenants in eviction proceedings.

The program’s funding includes $1.9 million his fiscal year and $3.9 million in the 2019-2020 fiscal year, following a rebalancing of The City’s budget. According to a statement published by Mayor London Breed’s office on Monday, the program is expected to begin “ramping up immediately with full implementation planned for July 2019.”

The City Controller estimated that $4.2 to $5.6 million would be required to fully fund the program.

A competitive Request for Proposal process identified organizations that already provide legal representation to tenants in The City on a more limited scale, who will receive funding to bolster their legal services.

A majority of the award, or some $2.8 million for two years, will go to the Eviction Defense Collaborative, which was selected as the lead partner for the program under the supervision of The City’s Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development.

“As lead partner we will be the primary source of referral,” siad Martina Cucullu Lim, EDC’s executive Director. “Tenants can come to ECD and we can direct them to organizations that can help with legal representation.”

Those organizations include the AIDS Legal Referral Panel, Asian Americans Advancing Justice — Asian Law Caucus, Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach, Bay Area Legal Aid, Justice & Diversity Center of the Bar Association of San Francisco, La Raza Centro Legal, Legal Assistance to the Elderly, Open Door Legal, the Tenderloin Housing Clinic and the Bar Association of San Francisco, which will provide mediation services.

Tenants Together and the San Francisco Tenants Union were fierce advocates for Prop. F’s passage, but because they do not provide full legal representation as part of their tenant counseling services, they were ineligible to apply for the funding boost.

The City’s current eviction defense system is dependent on a number of pro-bono attorneys distributed among the City’s tenant rights organizations, and has limited capacity. According to Prop F.’s proponents, some 80 percent of tenants currently undergo eviction proceedings without representation.

“We send almost all of our evictions letters to the EDC,” said Jennifer Fieber, political campaign director with the SF Tenants Union. “I hope [The City] will beef them up.”

Cucullu Lim said that EDC is working with The City on “designing a system to maximize access to resources and attorneys and implement that.”

lwaxmann@sfexaminer.com

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