New study identifies need for more attorneys to represent people facing housing legal woes

By Nate Morabito, WCNC-TV

A new study found there are not nearly enough attorneys for North Carolinians facing housing-related legal problems and the inadequacy is a top area of need statewide.

In Pursuit of Justice:  An Assessment of the Civil Legal Needs of North Carolina” comes in the face of the growing tenant “right to counsel” movement, which guarantees free lawyers to people facing eviction.

Louisville became the ninth city and the first in the South to pass a “right to counsel” law just last month. The Courier-Journal reports Louisville is using federal pandemic money to pay for the program.

The Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy joins Legal Aid of North Carolina in supporting “right to counsel” laws in Charlotte and statewide.

“It’s something that we could do and we should do,” Executive Director Kenneth Schorr said. “It is important that people have counsel when basic human rights are at stake, especially housing.”

Schorr said while most landlords and property managers have lawyers, most renters do not. Limited funding in Mecklenburg County already helps keep some renters in their homes and in turn, helps them avoid long-term credit problems, but Schorr said with more funding, the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy could hire more attorneys and help far more people.

“There’s a huge difference in results (when people are represented),” he said. “The landlords negotiate settlements because they know if they litigate them, they’ll lose a lot of them.”

Sayra Santos has already benefited from free representation. Santos, who works in the housekeeping business, said her job just restarted in December with fewer hours, which has again put her behind on rent. However, since she has access to an attorney, she said she knows she has a much better shot at avoiding eviction when the federal eviction moratorium ends.

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This story was produced by the Charlotte Journalism Collaborative, a partnership of six media companies working together in an effort started by the Solutions Journalism Network and funded by The Knight Foundation.