- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 20, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Got a phone? You’ll get a lawyer. Free.

It’s all part of a movement slowly creeping across the country, and that movement is called the Civil Gideon, and here’s why.

In 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling that said criminal defendants have the right to legal representation if they cannot afford counsel. The case originated in Florida, where state law only provided such counsel in cases involving a capital offense. Nowadays, such government-paid legal counsel can come play in nonviolent cases, and in stances involving housing, homelessness and for all intents and purposes.

In other words, your tax dollars can be used to acquire legal representation for an indigent person who wants to sue the city, state or federal government because they believe they are being shortchanged by city, state or federal government services.

Here’s the rub: D.C. is considering Civil Gideon legislation, but only the indigent need apply. Many of the indigent have a phone, courtesy, here again, of your local tax dollars. They have a phone, a free phone, because their government caseworkers might need to get in touch with them.

Many, if not most, live in rent-free or subsidized housing.

Many of them and their advocates think many of them get a raw deal because of economic development, the lack of “affordable” housing, slum landlords — you get where this is headed.

Now, for sure, homelessness is an unfortunate misfortune. Often, it is unavoidable. How often have we heard tell of families who’ve had to live in their vehicle due to eviction, foreclosure and down on their luck? (Director/screenwriter Tyler Perry, for example, lived in his car when he was homeless.)

D.C. officials claim to have a homelessness problem and propose to solve the problem by mandating “livable” wages, increasing “affordable” housing stock and creating more shelters.

The problem exists, however, because of the city’s right-to-shelter policies — policies so incredibly loose they allow any human being to claim they have been living at a D.C. address for 30 days or longer and presto, the city is obligated to find them a home or place them in a shelter.

Politics created the problem and politics will again compound the problem if the D.C. Council passes and Mayor Muriel Bowser signs a Civil Gideon law.

D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine pointed out nearly a year-and-a-half ago the straitjacket the city put itself in, and he used stats from a liberal think tank to do so.

“According to the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, between 2000 and 2010, the District lost half [his emphasis] of its low-cost rental units and 72 percent of its low-value homes,” Mr. Racine said. “If our dramatic growth in both population and housing prices continues, it’s easy to imagine a District where not only poor people will be squeezed out, but middle-class people as well.”

When the middle class move out, so do their taxes, which means there is a soft-sound alarm, perhaps.

What’s truly interesting, though, is Mr. Racine and his most recent predecessors appear to be reading from the same progressive handbook. Mr. Racine and his immediate predecessors, Peter Nickles and Irv Nathan, battled slum-like landlords.

Yet the problem.

That’s likely because all housing is not equal, as all schools are not equal. Rents and mortgages are not equal because all incomes and housing stock are not equal. They never have been and they never will.

Evictions and foreclosures can lead to devastating circumstances, and each of us has a moral obligation.

But city officials need to see the errors of its own ways. Do away with housing mandates, and don’t pass laws that mandate taxpayers shoulder the cost of providing legal counsel to people (poor or otherwise) who turn around and sue the city because the city didn’t do its job in the first place.

Small wonder Mr. Racine is concerned that the middle class — the bread, butter and jam of the District — could pack up and move elsewhere. “Affordable” housing, after all, is as relative as the cost of living.

Deborah Simmons can be contacted at [email protected]

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