Over the objections of the California Apartment Association, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously agreed to create a program designed to supply taxpayer-funded lawyers to renters facing eviction.

Known as a “Right to Counsel” ordinance, this initiative aims to use public funds in private legal disputes, carrying an estimated yearly cost of up to $60 million. This vote marks the first step in a lengthy process towards establishing the program.

Identifying a sustainable source of funding remains a significant challenge. The blueprint for the proposal anticipates its eventual expansion to encompass all cities within the county. To begin with, the first phase of the program, which might take about 10 months to be finalized into a draft ordinance and voted upon, would only apply to low-income renters in unincorporated parts of L.A. County. A more universal, countywide program, applicable in each city, is envisioned by 2030, funding permitting.

This week’s move by Los Angeles County follows a broader trend in housing policy in various jurisdictions across the country. “Right to Counsel” laws have been enacted in several major cities including New York City, San Francisco, and Philadelphia, the news site LAist pointed out.

Fred Sutton, senior vice president of local public affairs for CAA, expressed substantial concerns about the L.A. County proposal.

“It costs thousands of dollars to provide legal counsel for one case,” Sutton said, as reported in LAist. “Tax dollars can go much further through a rental subsidy. [A right to counsel program] only delays the process and does not stop a lawful claim to reclaim your property.”

Fred Sutton

In response to CAA concerns, Supervisors Kathryn Barger and Janice Hahn introduced several amendments These adjustments encompass the establishment of an income threshold for eligibility, inclusion of mediation services, economic evaluation after the program’s implementation, synchronized rental assistance initiatives, and the assessment of the effectiveness of current outreach endeavors.

While these amendments are positive, CAA remains unwavering in its critique of the RTC program, viewing it as both ineffective and counterproductive. The association cites a 2020 study showing that legal aid frequently doesn’t prevent eviction — removal from the unit was usually the result, even with legal assistance.

According to CAA, RTC laws primarily function to delay eviction proceedings, leading to an escalation in operational costs. The association suggests that this result makes housing both more costly and less available. A study from Columbia University supports this viewpoint, finding a 15% uptick in homelessness resulting from RTC policies, while programs providing direct rental subsidies showed greater effectiveness.

The ordinance’s permanent establishment of the Stay Housed L.A. Program, an educational initiative around housing that was launched during the pandemic, is another sticking point for CAA. While the association agrees with the program’s educational goals, it questions the choice of outreach subcontractors and advocates for a more balanced representation among these entities.

CAA continues to highlight these issues, advocating for the allocation of funds towards alternative solutions. For more details about CAA’s official letter and program recommendations, as well as a recording of CAA’s testimony, please follow the links provided.

Landlords throughout Los Angeles County are urged to stay abreast of this proposed ordinance’s progression and contemplate its possible impacts on their properties.

  • You can read CAA’s letter HERE!
  • You can see CAA testify HERE!
  • You can read the program recommendations HERE!