The COVID-19 pandemic put over 22 million U.S. tenants at risk of eviction. It also triggered bolder movement organizing, and demands for radical and enduring solutions to the ongoing housing crisis. Over decades, the field of movement lawyering—legal work that supports grassroots organizing and movement building—has been growing stronger and amassing a body of theoretical and practical frameworks. The potential mass eviction crisis, and the bold campaigns to prevent it, urgently called on movement lawyers to contribute their skills and knowledge to grassroots organizing efforts. This article examines the practice of movement lawyering through the lens of the author’s legal support for tenant organizing in New York City during the COVID-19 pandemic. The author focuses on several facets of her movement lawyering work with tenant organizing coalitions, including a: (a) campaign to secure eviction moratoria and keep the housing courts closed; (b) legislative campaign to cancel rent; and (c) mass rent strike to further the demand for rent cancellation. Through a discussion of the movement lawyering practices and approaches used to support these recent tenant campaigns, the author reflects on the praxis of movement lawyering and surfaces key lessons that movement lawyers might draw from her experiences.
Marika Dias is deeply grateful for the trust, inspiration, and solidarity of the many tenants, organizers, advocates, and fellow movement lawyers, with whom she has been privileged to work and fight alongside. While Dias is the author of this article, the ideas herein are the result of collective labor and struggle, both past and present. Dias also acknowledges the tremendous work of Sam Corman, Roni Druks, Zac Hale, Rajiv Jaswa, Christina Jones, Samantha Kocharov, Michael Leonard, Ryan MacDonald, and Stephanie Storke on the legal research to support the Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Bill, which the author has drawn from here in the footnotes relating to constitutional questions raised by the bill.
Marika Dias, Paradox and Possibility: Movement Lawyering During the COVID-19 Housing Crisis, 24 CUNY L. Rev. 173 (2021).