FILE: Money bags

(The Center Square) — Connecticut saved taxpayers millions of dollars through a pandemic-related program that provided legal representation to low-income tenants facing eviction, according to a new report.

The report on the state's right-to-counsel program, prepared by the independent consulting firm Stout, found that by preventing evictions or helping tenants find new housing before they’re evicted likely saved Connecticut taxpayers between $5.8 and $6.3 million from the end of January to the end of November 2022. 

The report's authors wrote that the program helped save the state money it would have otherwise spent to provide emergency shelter services for families and individuals, child welfare, health care and education services. 

Those costs included $2.5 million to $2.7 million in savings related to Medicaid spending; while another $1.1 million to $1.2 million came from housing safety net savings. Other savings came from the economic value of residency and preventing foster care placements, according to the report.

"People experiencing homelessness, including those experiencing homelessness because of eviction or disruptive displacement, often utilize in-patient and emergency room care more frequently than people who are stably housed," the report's authors wrote. 

The report's authors said the estimated savings is likely "understated" because it doesn’t include an offset to costs for providing public benefits to people who lose their jobs after an eviction, among other expenses.

Connecticut created the right-to-counsel program last year with about $20 million in pandemic relief money, which is expected to keep it fully funded through 2024. 

The program, which is open to low-income residents in specific ZIP codes and veterans, seeks to close a gap between the number of tenants and landlords who have legal representation in eviction cases.

The Connecticut Bar Foundation, which is overseeing the initiative, said the number of tenants with legal representation increased by about 176% this year – from an average of 401 pre-pandemic to 1,109 tenants.

During the pandemic, Connecticut distributed about $400 million in federal pandemic relief for rental assistance to help keep people in their homes. Under the program, tenants who were financially impacted by the pandemic and earned up to 80% of area median income could get up to $15,000 a year in rental assistance.

But state officials have noted that the number of eviction filings has risen since that money began to dry up early last year.