Office of Eviction Protection Offers Urgent Aid to Vulnerable People
Immediately following the end of eviction moratoriums, families and individuals in states across the country were suddenly made markedly more vulnerable to homelessness overnight. In New Jersey, officials forecasted this problem and laid the groundwork for a smoother transition back to a world where housing is precarious if you can’t pay.
This new government office grew out of a pilot program designed to provide legal counsel to tenants facing eviction within three New Jersey cities. In that program, low-income renters in Trenton, East Orange, and Atlantic City were provided with legal counsel to help them navigate the complexities of eviction proceedings and the legal system in general.
The pilot program saw enough success, helping 86% of the families it worked with avoid eviction, that it was expanded to reach low-income families facing eviction anywhere across the state.
How It Works
The Office of Eviction Protection is comprised of 48 people across 16 different social services and legal aid agencies. Its program connecting tenants facing eviction with knowledgeable legal counsel is known as Comprehensive Eviction Defense & Diversion, or CEDD for short.
When an eviction is filed, the courts share that information with the agency, which will reach out to tenants in the lead-up to their court dates to offer assistance as needed.
The program also includes a resource navigator in every county across the state, who can help families discover and apply for the programs that could help them on a case-by-case basis. This could be anything from EBT to disability income to lesser-known local programs designed to help people in certain situations.
You can also contact the OEP in a non-emergency scenario to ask questions and get information regarding tenants’ rights in your area to stay informed and know your rights, which is so important. It’s much easier to learn and retain information like this when you’re learning it in a non-urgent situation, without the threat of eviction hanging over your head, and it can really come in handy to know it when you need it.
Why It’s Needed
Since its foundation in August of 2021, the New Jersey Office of Eviction Protection has already been able to help over 20,000 families across the state.
Eviction is one of the top inciting events leading to homelessness for people in New Jersey, so the agency’s assistance with legal counsel, access to government aid programs, and experience with navigating the court process is essential.
Eviction can also be a traumatic experience in itself, even if it doesn’t lead to homelessness. Being suddenly turned out of the place you call home can make it difficult psychologically to be comfortable in any future home, and having an eviction filing on your record can also make it difficult to find a landlord willing to rent to you.
The need for legal counsel for tenants facing eviction is evident by the fact that only 10% of tenants are represented in court during their eviction proceedings. In comparison, over 90% of landlords retain legal representation for evictions. We need to even the playing field.
The legal system is made so purposefully convoluted that it’s not something the average person can navigate on their own. We shouldn’t let the lack of funds to secure competent legal counsel be the thing that changes the course of a person’s life forever. Yet that’s so often exactly what happens.
Who Is the Eviction Protection Program Helping?
In the two years it’s existed, New Jersey’s Office of Eviction Protection has helped 20,000 families navigate the needlessly complex maze of red tape we call the court system. Of those, nearly 90% have been able to remain in their homes.
Relocation was an option for 9% of people, while 1.8% still fell through the cracks and ended up becoming homeless.
Nearly 60% of the people the Office of Eviction Protection has worked with to date have been Black, even though only 15.4% of the total population of New Jersey is Black. This figure points to the severely increased risk of eviction that Black people face due to systemic racism and personal biases.
The Future of The Program
Eviction is an emergency situation. Preventing it is a bit like stopping the bleeding from a major wound. It’s a necessary step, but much more must be done before we can call it a day.
Dean Dafis, the director of the Office of Eviction Protection and mayor of Maplewood, NJ, would like to see the program expand into not just stopping evictions in court but actually stopping the eviction from ever being filed in the first place. This is because the filing record alone can make it harder for a tenant to rent again, even if their case is thrown out or reconciled.
Dafis would like to see the office partner with a public housing authority to assist people who are having trouble making their rent before eviction becomes part of the conversation. This seems like a common-sense solution, and hopefully, we will see New Jersey and other states implementing this soon.
Contacting the Office of Eviction Protection
If you are a resident of New Jersey, you can contact the Office of Eviction Protection through their hotline at (609) 376-0810 or by emailing them at [email protected]. Remember that these resources aren’t strictly for emergencies; you can contact them anytime to learn about your rights as a tenant and stay informed.
If you’re not a resident of New Jersey, you might have an equivalent organization in your state! Whether it’s run by the state government or a local nonprofit, there are many organizations dedicated to making sure that tenants know their rights and can stand up for themselves.