ORLANDO, Fla. — A new bill proposed Tuesday by Democrats in Congress could help the 20 million U.S. renters who are at risk of being evicted by September.
What You Need To Know
- HELP Act poised to help renters get legal help if facing eviction
- Critics of the act says it doesn't do enough to help renters
- RELATED: Gov. DeSantis Extends Eviction Moratorium Until September 1
If passed, the Housing Emergencies Lifeline Program (HELP) Act would provide states and localities with a total of $10 billion in funding that would go toward legal representation for people at risk of being evicted.
It would also provide tenants with several other layers of protection, including limitations on how much an eviction case could impact tenants’ credit. Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) introduced the bill.
Often, tenants facing eviction can’t afford legal representation, so they represent themselves in court – a legal term known as pro se. These tenants face a unique challenge even beyond the eviction itself, according to Chief Legal Counsel for the Orange County Clerk of Courts Jared Brooks.
“They’re navigating a very complicated and sometimes daunting process on their own and if a landlord has an attorney on the other side, then you can imagine just the intimidation and maybe lack of familiarity with the topic,” Brooks said.
Careful not to discount those who do successfully represent themselves in court, Brooks said a bill like the HELP Act could help “even the playing field,” by ensuring more Floridian renters have access to legal counsel familiar with state law and the topic area of eviction.
“I think the challenge is when parties are in court, when you’re litigating these matters, is having to be educated enough, to be comfortable enough and to be competent enough to articulate your point to the judge, so that hopefully, you’re able to paint the picture of why you’re in this financial situation,” Brooks said.
Some critics of the proposed HELP Act questioned how much legal representation would really help those facing eviction, asking why Democrats didn’t instead propose a bill including rent forgiveness or rental aid paid directly to tenants.
Orange County renters seeking legal aid with an eviction case may contact the Self-Help Center at the Orange County Clerk of Courts, which is currently accepting virtual appointments. The Self-Help Center provides access to legal counsel from attorneys referred by the Orange County Bar Association, at the cost of $1 per minute.
Molly Duerig is a Report for America corps member who is covering affordable housing for Spectrum News 13. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.