NEWARK, NJ - The city will use a philanthropic initiative to analyze its new Office of Tenant Legal Services and explore ways to reduce evictions of low-income residents.

Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Ballmer Group are spending $12 million on the 18-month initiative in Newark and nine other cities throughout the nation. Newark will develop, pilot and measure what impacts giving free legal representation to low-income residents facing eviction has on economic mobility.

“One of the highest priorities of my administration is to reduce the disparities of wealth, income and opportunity that Newark residents face,” said Mayor Ras Baraka. “This national initiative to increase economic mobility will be a critical tool in our work towards achieving economic justice.”

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The city will not be using any of the funds from the initiative to hire lawyers for the Office of Tenant Legal Services, said Deputy Mayor Natasha Rogers. The Office of Tenant Legal Services launched earlier this month, but some council members balked at a $150,000 contract to a nonprofit that would provide residents’ with free legal representation.

Providing low-income residents in the city with an attorney in eviction court is a huge undertaking that has has been slow to start in Newark. The right-to-counsel program n New York City, which has many more residents than Newark, was estimated to cost millions.

The philanthropic initiative will help communities analyze economic mobility in American cities and develop interventions to boost economic outcomes for residents. The program gives the city consultants and tools to analyze data.

“With their enthusiasm to test out a diverse set of interventions and closely track the results, these pioneer cities will not only expand opportunity for their own residents, they will provide valuable insights to communities across the country,” said Dr. Sue Desmond-Hellmann, CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.”

City staff has already started to work with a team from Bloomberg Philanthropies' What Works Cities, which includes advisors from Results for America and the Behavioral Insights Team. What Works Cities help municipalities address challenges through data.

Opportunity Insights at Harvard University is also helping city staff with data analytics on economic mobility using information from Opportunity Atlas, an interactive resource developed with the U.S. Census Bureau.

Johns Hopkins University's Center for Government Excellence, the Harvard Kennedy School's Government Performance Lab and the Sunlight Foundation will also work with the city.

Other cities, like Albuquerque, will use the tools from the initiative to improve financial literacy among youth by increasing their access to bank accounts and other services.

The nine other cities participating in the initiative are: Albuquerque, NM; Cincinnati, OH; Dayton, OH; Detroit, MI; Lansing, MI; New Orleans, LA; Racine, WI; Rochester, NY; and Tulsa, OK.

Any legal groups that want to work with the city's Office of Tenant Legal Services should contact the agency at  973-733-3675 or otls@ci.newark.nj.us. Residents may reach out to the office for additional information too.

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