Navigating the Rising Tide of Evictions: The Critical Role of Free Legal Services and Housing Counseling

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, our communities are facing an unprecedented eviction crisis, with filings more than 50% higher than the pre-pandemic average. This alarming statistic, highlighted in a recent report by Princeton’s Eviction Lab, underscores a growing challenge that threatens the stability and well-being of countless families across the nation.

The story of Freddie Davis, a Miami resident who faced eviction after his rent was raised by 60% the same month he lost his job, is a stark reminder of the vulnerability many are experiencing. Davis, who also battles health issues, represents the harsh reality for many Americans today: the threat of homelessness looms large, exacerbated by rising rents, a shortage of affordable housing, and the lingering economic fallout of the pandemic.

At The Waterfront Project, Inc. (WFP), we understand the gravity of this crisis and the critical need for support and intervention. Our mission is to provide free civil legal representation, assistance, and advocacy to New Jersey residents who are asset-limited, income-constrained, homeless, or disenfranchised. Through our Legal Defense and Housing Counseling Programs, we aim to combat the eviction crisis head-on, offering a lifeline to those in dire need.

The importance of free legal services and housing counseling cannot be overstated. Without organizations like WFP, the homeless response system is at risk of crumbling under the weight of the eviction crisis. Legal representation can significantly impact the outcome of eviction proceedings, often preventing unjust displacement and homelessness. Housing counseling, on the other hand, empowers individuals and families with the knowledge and resources needed to navigate the complexities of the housing market, secure stable housing, and avoid future crises.

As we face this rising tide of evictions, the work of The Waterfront Project and similar organizations is more vital than ever. By providing essential services to those most at risk, we not only help individuals and families maintain their housing but also contribute to the overall health and stability of our communities.

In these challenging times, we call upon our community members, stakeholders, and policymakers to recognize the importance of free legal services and housing counseling. Together, we can address the eviction crisis and work towards a future where everyone has access to safe, stable, and affordable housing.

Listen to WABE PBS “Closer Look,” where Peter Hepburn, an associate director at Princeton University’s Eviction Lab, discusses the rental market during the pandemic, the current state of the market and what the Eviction Lab’s tracker reveals about evictions in at least 10 states and more than 30 cities.