A national organization funded by the Koch brothers is once again trying to meddle into Jersey City politics and undermine gains won by housing justice organizers. When the campaign to pass a tenants’ Right to Counsel was underway, the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) circulated a letter to city council threatening a potential lawsuit. Now, the city and local advocates are preparing to defend RTC in court from a conservative legal challenge fronted by landlords.

PLF’s recent opinion piece is at best inconsistent, with the obvious intention of setting up a narrative that property developers are as vulnerable as everyday taxpayers. Sam Spiegelman, also a member of the far-right Federalist Society, writes, “maybe the public shouldn’t put a thumb on the scales by paying for one side’s lawyers.” But their argument rests upon the assumption that private companies should not be subject to contributing to public funds “in excess” of negative externalities caused by their operations. Spiegelman obscures reality by presenting large corporations as comparable entities to average members of the public.

Right to Counsel balances the scales between renters and landlords likely to be represented in housing court in over 80 percent of cases. But it’s not only property owners who contribute to the housing crisis. The impacts of luxury hyper-development beginning in the 1980s when Lefrak broke ground in Newport can be felt all over the city as rents and eviction rates continue to rise. Developers have long been exempt from paying their fair share back into surrounding communities. Now that ordinances which will exact a fee four times smaller than sales tax but generate millions at scale for affordable housing programs have passed, they are attempting to fight back.

Spiegelman states that the ordinances are “singling out a segment of the community:” property developers who will pay the fees used to fund right to counsel and the construction of affordable housing. This is reminiscent of arguments made against the policy that “relevant stakeholders” were not consulted in the development of these laws. The reality is that these “relevant stakeholders” have had an outsized impact on Jersey City housing and budget policy for decades. Property developers receive special tax abatementsflood school board elections with candidates to manipulate the budgetary process, and contribute heavily to election campaigns.

On relevant stakeholders, our campaign spoke and engaged with thousands of people across the city who agreed that tenants deserve a right to an attorney when facing eviction. When renters are represented, they are much more likely to stay in their homes.

As members of our campaign have previously writtenHolmdel Builders Association v. Holmdel permits the collection of fees on new development to be spent on affordable housing and similar initiatives through obligations established by the Mt. Laurel decision. Money raised is distributed through the Affordable Housing Trust Fund which allows for 20 percent of funding to go towards administrative expenses like right to counsel.

Not increasing taxes for everyday renters and homeowners was always a hallmark of our policy. We sought targeted relief that redistributes funding from development companies to the city population in desperate need of affordable housing and tenant protection.

Importantly, associations mobilizing against the city providing free, legal representation to renters are the same ones that have fought against progressive housing reforms in the area for years. The legal complaint was filed by the Jersey City Property Owners Association, run by Executive Director Ron Simoncini. Known for trying to squash rent control, he is a regular figure in multiple fights against tenant protections in North New Jersey. Despite his organized opposition to Jersey City’s Right to Counsel, the city council sided with tenants in a 9-0 unanimous vote.

In a country where people are not even guaranteed lawyers in criminal proceedings, it is immoral and abhorrent to advocate for the overturning of a policy that would extend equitable protection under the law.

Jersey City has crossed its own Rubicon when tenants came together to secure legal protections. A few rich and powerful players cannot be the ones who determine policy that affects the over 70 percent of people who rent. The response to these ordinances from those with stakes in the real estate industry showcases how these individuals benefit from the inability of ordinary people to enforce their rights. Power comes from the people, and tenant organizing will continue to be built up with these newfound safeguards and through community mobilization. The city must reject these legal challenges and ensure rents stay stable, homes are well-maintained, and residents are no longer at risk of displacement.

Julia Tache was the Media and Communications Chair of the Right to Counsel JC Campaign and an organizer with the Democratic Socialists of America.