April 18, 2024

The Estimated Economic Impact of Access to Counsel in Evictions in Chattanooga and Hamilton County

Stout was engaged by the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga (CFGC) to analyze the cost and benefits associated with an access to counsel program for income-eligible tenants in landlord-tenant proceedings in Chattanooga (the City) and Hamilton County (the County). The eviction access to counsel program being contemplated in the City and County would not necessarily provide an attorney for every tenant but would ensure access to an attorney when tenants are experiencing circumstances that would require an attorney.

Key Findings

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.

Stout uses the phrase  “disruptive displacement” to capture outcomes of cases beyond “winning” and “losing” and “evicted” or “not evicted.”  For  example,   there  may be circumstances where tenants did not have a formal eviction warrant executed against them and therefore were not displaced but still have experienced disruption in their lives because of the eviction  filing.  There may also be circumstances where a tenant needs to move but having access to counsel and being  represented  during  the  eviction  proceeding  minimizes the disruption that the move may have had on the tenant’s household. Stout has found the phrase “disruptive displacement” to be helpful in demonstrating the variety of circumstances tenants experience and the impact of counsel in assisting with navigating a complex, high-stakes legal proceeding. Local advocates may use alternative terminology to describe the outcomes of cases and the impacts to tenants.

Additional social safety net responses to disruptive displacement may be funded by Hamilton County but are used  by City residents. For  example, children living in Chattanooga  attend Hamilton County schools, and Chattanooga residents who are incarcerated are incarcerated in Hamilton  County  jail.  Stout  believes  that  if  an eviction  access  to  counsel  program were implemented in Chattanooga there would certainly be social safety net fiscal impacts that are realized  by the  County. The County’s  social  safety  net  economic  benefits  would  be realized without additional investment and would be in addition to the amounts calculated herein.

In circumstances where tenants are facing eviction, it is critically important for them to remain in their homes or be connected to services that can assist with finding alternative safe, stable housing  –  both of which can be achieved by representation through an eviction access to counsel program. In the face of financial challenges for municipalities, an investment in an eviction  access to counsel program can result in significant fiscal impacts or cost savings relative to the extraordinary costs that would be incurred to support Chattanooga and Hamilton County residents left to endure the trauma of the eviction process without the assistance of an attorney. Furthermore, attorneys will be able to provide tenants with assistance in navigating complex rental assistance applications and systems, and with the help of an eviction access to counsel will likely improve the success of complementary  programs  in Chattanooga and Hamilton County, such as the Eviction Prevention Initiative (including the “flex fund”), the Eviction Diversion Initiative, mediation, and emergency rental assistance.