New Study Indicates Eviction Reduction Efforts Could Generate $3.1 Million Economic Benefit

  • Tuesday, April 23, 2024

An annual investment of $640,000 on access to counsel in eviction cases in Hamilton County has a potential annual benefit to taxpayers of more than $3 million, according to a new study released by the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga.

The cost-benefit analysis, “The Estimated Economic Impact of Access to Counsel in Evictions in Chattanooga and Hamilton County,” was funded by the Maclellan Foundation and conducted by Stout Risius Ross, LLC. It indicates that the public could see economic benefits of $4.84 for every dollar spent on eviction prevention.

According to the report: “With an annual investment of approximately $640,000 in an eviction access to counsel program, Chattanooga and Hamilton County may recognize economic benefits of at least an estimated $3.1 million. For every dollar the city or county invests in providing free representation to eligible tenants through an eviction access to counsel program, the city or county may reduce social safety net responses to disruptive displacement or realize economic benefits of at least $4.84.”

Civil access to counsel refers to the concept that individuals who cannot afford legal representation in cases concerning fundamental human needs — including shelter, sustenance, safety, health and child custody — should be provided with a lawyer without cost. A landmark 1963 Supreme Court case, Gideon v. Wainwright, enshrined this right for criminal defendants. With regard to civil matters like eviction proceedings, however, the assistance of a professional lawyer is not guaranteed.

Locally funded and managed access to counsel efforts are becoming more widespread. According to a 2023 survey by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, three states and 17 cities have enacted some form of right-to-counsel protections for tenants.

In Hamilton County, the Eviction Prevention Initiative provides households facing eviction with attorneys and social workers during and following court proceedings, with the dual goals of keeping tenants in their homes while compensating landlords fairly. The program, launched by the Foundation in 2020, has been financially supported by the city of Chattanooga and several private donors since its inception.

In 2023, the administration of EPI was formally transferred to Legal Aid of East Tennessee. In the preceding two years, 706 people, including 372 children, avoided eviction because of EPI while the program’s social workers have been able to prevent homelessness for more than 100 people. In the same period, EPI staff were also able to help connect landlords with more than $675,000 in federal and philanthropic rent relief dollars.

Other notable findings in the study include:

The program could generate an estimated additional $700,000 in economic activity due to increased educational attainment and $600,000 due to more stable employment.

Approximately 797 income-eligible tenant households could receive legal representation annually through an eviction access to counsel program.

Estimated annual Medicaid cost savings related to physical and mental health care for Chattanooga and Hamilton County residents could be approximately $140,000.

The eviction access to counsel program could reduce the annual fiscal impact related to incarcerating people experiencing homelessness by approximately $30,000.

“Ensuring that people facing eviction have access to an attorney benefits our entire community,” says Maeghan Jones, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga. “Strategic interventions like the Eviction Prevention Initiative create stability for individuals and families and, in many cases, improve outcomes for landlords as well. By providing access to legal representation for every eligible household in our community we not only prevent evictions, we stabilize families and help prevent the negative downstream impacts of an unplanned relocation, and we also save taxpayers millions of dollars in the process.”

“Keeping more families in their homes alleviates the extraordinary cost burdens associated with homelessness,” says Debra House, executive director of Legal Aid of East Tennessee. “This allows public dollars to flow to other urgent community priorities. This study makes a clear and compelling case for continued public sector investment in this work.”

For more information and to read the full study, “The Estimated Economic Impact of Access to Counsel in Evictions in Chattanooga and Hamilton County,” please click here.

To learn more about the Eviction Prevention Initiative or to access its resources, call 710-9432 or visit Rent423.com

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