The impact of advocacy work can be felt by thousands
2 October 2020
Over the last decade, the number of UK private renters increased by 63 per cent to 4.5 million. In 2016, there were 43 million renters across the US, accounting for 36.6 per cent of households, the highest rate since 1965. Evictions continue to be a major source of homelessness; between 2010 and 2017, evictions in the UK rose by 53 per cent – to 169 per day. In the US, eviction has been compared to an epidemic – 900,000 households are evicted every year.
Given that homelessness is driven by policy decisions, one of the major areas of growth in the last ten years has been advocacy. Oak’s Housing and Homelessness Programme (HHP) has fully embraced its role in supporting advocacy to address structural factors that can either support people to stay in their homes or push them towards homelessness.
In 2019, the HHP portfolio included 35 advocacy projects concerned with housing rights, compared with ten in 2010. Eleven of these projects provide support to individuals alongside their advocacy work.
In 2018, Oak’s Housing and Homelessness Programme (HHP) made a grant to support the Right to Counsel New York City Coalition. In earlier years, this coalition, which is made up of advocates, tenants, academics and legal service providers, organised a successful campaign for low-income tenants in New York City to have the right to free legal counsel when facing eviction. Victory came in August 2017, when the New York City Council passed legislation granting this right, and committed to its implementation across New York City within five years. Oak’s grant to the coalition was to ensure that the Right to Counsel is implemented in a way that turns a law into a right, builds tenant power and transforms the nature of the housing court system.
Initially, the Right to Counsel was rolled out to 20 zip codes that account for 26 per cent of NYC’s 21,000 evictions. In 2018, evictions declined by 11 per cent in these zip codes compared with 2 per cent in other comparable zip codes. In addition, 84 per cent of people represented by city-funded attorneys were able to remain in their homes.
“With the help of a lawyer, I was able to reach an agreement with my landlord so that I could pay what I owed over a period of time that was achievable for me,” said one tenant facing eviction who had been living in Williamsburg for 25 years. “It was a chaotic situation until I had legal representation.”
When successful, the impact of advocacy work can be felt by thousands of people for years to come. Alluring as this is, the HHP has never lost sight of the human story at its heart. We believe the most effective advocacy and the best policies grow out of real-life experience, so we have stayed close to this work. Our advocacy work stretches across the three pillars of the strategy – economic wellbeing, homelessness prevention and affordable housing supply.
Read more about the HHP programme strategy here.
 Christiansen K and Lewis R, UK private rented sector:2018, Office for National Statistics 2017, https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/inflationandpriceindices/ articles/ukprivaterentedsector/2018, (Accessed 04-02-2020)
 Cilluffo A, Geiger AW and Fry R, More U.S. households are renting than at any point in 50 years, Pew Research Center 2017, https://www.pewresearch.org/ fact-tank/2017/07/19/more-u-s-households-are-renting-than-at-any-point-in-50- years/ (Accessed 04-02-2020)
 Jeraj S, 169 evictions in Britain a day: “I knocked every door, and no one helped me”, New Statesman 2018, https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/ uk/2018/03/169-evictions-britain-day-i-knocked-every-door-and-no-one-helped-me (Accessed 04-02-2020)
 Holden C, Senate considering two bills promoting housing stability, https:// affordablehousingonline.com/blog/senate-considering-two-bills-promoting-housing-stability/ (Accessed 04-02-2020)
 Right to Counsel, Power to Organize” Campaign, https://www. righttocounselnyc.org/right_to_counsel_power_to_organize_campaign, (Accessed 04-02-2020)