Right to Counsel Leaders Introduce New Legislation to Expand Landmark Tenants’ Rights Law

For Immediate Release: September 12, 2018

Contact: Jake Sporn // 516-946-5253 // jsporn@council.nyc.gov

City Hall, NY -- Following the historic passage of New York City’s landmark “Right to Counsel” legislation, the law’s lead sponsors City Council Members Mark Levine and Vanessa Gibson, together with the Right to Counsel NYC Coalition (RTCNYC), are introducing new legislation to strengthen and expand the nation’s first universal eviction legal defense law.

The Council passed Levine and Gibson’s bill, Intro 214, in July of 2017, making New York the first jurisdiction in the country to guarantee legal representation in housing court for tenants. The new law mandated the NYC Office of Civil Justice provide New Yorkers with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty line – or $50,200 annually for a family of four – with free legal representation when facing an eviction.

Since implementing, the Right to Counsel law has already had a dramatic impact in protecting tenants from eviction, including:

  • A 24 percent decrease in the number of evictions since 2014;
  • An increase in the number of non-profit legal aid attorneys working with tenants city-wide from 200 to 500, yielding a rise in the number of tenants with legal representation from just 10 to over 27 percent; and,
  • According to Housing Court Answers, zip codes covered by the first year roll out of Right to Counsel showed unprecedented progress. In the Bronx, the borough with the highest evictions, there was a 15% drop in the two zip codes where tenants have a right to an attorney. In Brooklyn, the two covered zips showed a decrease of 18% in evictions over the last two years. In Jamaica, Queens, the covered areas showed a 13% decline in 2017 compared to 2016.

Lastly, reflecting a paradigm shift in the tenant-landlord relationship, the number of eviction cases filed in NYC’s housing courts has already started to drop--down almost 10 percent since 2014--proving that even just having an attorney reduces the number of frivolous cases landlords bring to housing court.

“The passage of our right to counsel law last year was an historic step towards justice in NYC’s housing courts, where for generations the vast majority of tenants faced the threat of eviction without the benefit of legal representation,” said Council Member Levine. “The stakes for implementation couldn’t be higher-- which is why we need to expand and strengthen this law to keep New Yorkers in their homes, off the streets, and out of the shelter system.”

“After just one year, Right to Counsel is proving to be an unprecedented success,” said Council Member Vanessa Gibson. “This groundbreaking legislation has kept people in their homes, and out of homeless shelters and housing courts.”

Despite the new law’s extraordinary success, a combination of evolving landlord tactics, implementation issues in the courthouses, and lack of public awareness of the law continue to make it difficult for tenants to receive the legal representation they are now entitled to. To address these issues, Council Members Levine and Gibson, in partnership with RTCNYC Coalition leaders, are advancing new legislation that includes:

Increasing the income threshold to 400% of the federal poverty line

While the majority of tenants in housing court are eligible for the right to counsel under the current 200 percent threshold, a single New Yorker earning a $15 an hour minimum wage is not.

Said Council Member Levine, “The federal poverty level is totally out of whack with the reality in New York City. With the skyrocketing cost of living here, more and more people above 200% of the federal line are in fact facing enormous economic struggles. We need to expand the Right to Counsel law to reflect that.”  

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Massive Sinkhole Opens Up On Upper West Side Street

Patch-Logo.png By Brendan Krisel

UPPER WEST SIDE, NY — A massive sinkhole that could swallow a car whole has opened up on an Upper West Side street, and area residents are frustrated by the lack of urgency in fixing the problem.

The sinkhole appeared Tuesday on West 101st Street and Manhattan Avenue, City Councilman Mark Levine said. The area is coned off and traffic is being directed around the hole, but the crevice hasn't been filled yet, Levine said.

Residents in building near the gaping hole voiced their frustrations to Pix 11 News.

"If it was Fifth Avenue or Park Avenue this matter would've been settled already," neighborhood resident Rene Rodriguez told the news station.

Rodriguez told the news station that the sinkhole has caused problems on the street since 2013, and that each time it opens up the city just fills it with asphalt. A neighborhood mother told Pix 11 that the sinkhole is a danger for the area's children, who approach the unstable street out of curiosity.

Levine said Thursday that Con Edison is dispatching a repair team to fill in the sinkhole.

"Crazy that it's still not fixed after two days. but we believe [con ed] is now finally on way to repair it," Levine said on Twitter.

The city Department of Environmental protection is working with Con Edison to fix the sinkhole, a department spokesman said. An investigation revealed that water and sewer infrastructure near the sinkhole is working properly, the spokesman said.

Read the full story here.

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Transit Advocates Push Mayor on Bus Reforms

City-Limits.png By Multiple Authors

Transportation advocacy groups released a report Tuesday outlining ways Mayor de Blasio can fix the city’s sluggish bus system, with the goal of improving riders’ commutes in underserved neighborhoods with limited transit options.

The “Bus Turnaround” report, released by Riders Alliance, outlines specific actions the city can take to benefit its 2 million daily bus riders—stressing the de Blasio administration’s role in reforming the system, in addition to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s

“The buses are controlled by the MTA and the streets are controlled by the city—the streets, the traffic lights and the enforcement,” says Councilman Mark Levine. “We will not fix our bus system, we will not implement the Bus Turnaround plan, without the city doing its part.”

The MTA unveiled its own plan in April to improve city bus service, which is being used by fewer riders than in the past; ridership numbers are down 14 percent since 2007, according to the agency’s data. City buses are also notoriously slow, with an average speed of 6.7 miles per hour, the Riders Alliance’ report says.

“I’m a senior. I don’t know how much time I have left, and it seems like I’ve spent all my time waiting for the bus,” says Beth Childs, a “very frustrated” rider from the Upper East Side and a Riders Alliance member. She and other members performed a skit during a press conference in front of City Hall Tuesday, intended to draw attention to the daily struggles of bus riders.

Childs says she frequently takes the M15 bus because it’s hard for her to walk up and down the subway stairs.

“Even with knee and hip replacements, I can walk faster than that bus,” she says.

The report recommends adding 100 miles of bus lanes to New York City’s current 120, making sure bus lanes stay clear by ticketing cars that block them, and improving the experience of riders by establishing bus shelters and making accurate real-time information available to all.

It also calls for the city to expand its use of Transit Signal Priority (TSP), which adjusts traffic lights to prioritize buses moving through intersections. City buses spend 21 percent of their time in service waiting at red lights, according to the report. It recommends that the Department of Transportation quadruple the pace of its current TSP expansion to include all applicable intersections by 2020.

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Council speaker calls emergency meeting on NYCHA’s water tanks

CityandState.pngBy Frank G. Runyeon

New York City elected officials and tenants’ advocates denounced the deteriorating condition of the rooftop water tanks that supply drinking water to New York City Housing Authority tenants, following a report by City & Statewhich revealed dozens of cases of contamination – including birds, rodents, and insects in the tanks – that were never reported to city health officials, as the law requires.

NYCHA indicated that it was revising its policies and health officials said they were examining documents and working with the housing agency to “provide guidance about water tank inspection requirements.” The health department repeated a common refrain that “there is no evidence that the water from water tanks raises any public health concern, and there has never been a sickness or outbreak traced back to a water tank.”

Those official statements did not placate a chorus of discontent over the revelations.

“The reports on contamination in NYCHA water tanks are appalling,” said New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who represents tenants spotlighted in the City & State report. “This is unacceptable in my district, and it’s unacceptable anywhere in the five boroughs. NYCHA needs to get its act together – quickly. The hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who live in NYCHA buildings deserve better.”

Johnson is scheduling an emergency meeting at the Chelsea Houses with NYCHA and city health officials, according to a spokesman for the speaker. Birds were found in drinking water tanks in both the Elliott and Chelsea housing developments in 2017.

New York City Councilman Mark Levine, who chairs the council’s Committee on Health that has oversight over the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the agency responsible for ensuring the water tanks are properly maintained, also weighed in.

“NYCHA's shameful legacy of underinvestment has spared no infrastructure system, including the thousands of water towers that residents depend on,” Levine said in a statement. “No one should have to question the quality of their drinking water – especially not NYCHA residents facing challenges on so many other fronts.”

Elected officials launched reform initiatives and a formal inquiry earlier this year after a City & State investigation published in May showed the city’s largely wooden water tanks were often neglected and oversight was lax.

“The City Council is working on a package of bills that will further strengthen the rules for inspection and repair of water tanks while providing much more transparent reports to the public, both in private housing and at NYCHA,” Levine said. “Such policies are critical to ensuring that New Yorkers have full confidence in their drinking water supply.”

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Protestan contra supremacistas blancos en Alto Manhattan

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Cientos de personas se congregaron ayer en Fort Tryon Park en respuesta a la pancarta antiinmigración colocada allí por un grupo de supremacía blanca durante el fin de semana.

“Identity Evropa” colgó el aviso que llamaba a “detener la invasión, terminar con la inmigración”. El mismo grupo se apostó el sábado frente al Consulado de México en Manhattan para manifestar a favor de la construcción del muro fronterizo, una de las promesas electorales del presidente Donald Trump.

El congresista Adriano Espaillat (D-Manhattan) dirigió la protesta de ayer, acompañado por el concejal Mark Levine (D-Washington Heights) y la vicegobernadora Kathy Hochul.

“Acaban de pelear con 20 millones de neoyorquinos”, afirmó Hochul. “Estamos unidos, liderados por esa bella dama en el puerto, y somos un faro de esperanza”, dijo en referencia a la Estatua de la Libertad.

“Identity Evropa” aboga por el fin de toda inmigración, tanto legal como ilegal y promueve que las personas sólo vivan con otros de su misma raza. El grupo de extrema derecha, fundado en 2016, tiene sólo 300 miembros en todo el país.

“Somos una comunidad de inmigrantes, de gente de color, de judíos, de musulmanes, de personas LGBTQ, por lo que básicamente somos la peor pesadilla de esos tipos”, dijo Levine, citado por Pix11. “¡Y estamos orgullosos de eso!”

Lea el artículo completo aquí.

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Neighborhoods rally against white supremacist group in Fort Tryon Park

AMNY.pngBy Abigail Weinberg

Protesters gathered at Upper Manhattan's Fort Tryon Park Tuesday to denounce a recent demonstration by Identity Evropa — a white supremacist group that rallied in the same location days before.

Members of Identity Evropa, which has been identified as a white supremacist group by the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center, unfurled a banner Saturday reading “STOP THE INVASION, END IMMIGRATION” at the park’s Billings Arcade, according to the group’s Twitter account. In response, Rep. Adriano Espaillat organized Tuesday’s event, titled “Uptown Standing Together Against Racism and Xenophobia,” drawing hundreds to Billings Lawn in support.

Fort Tryon Park is situated between Hudson Heights, Washington Heights and Inwood — neighborhoods with predominantly Hispanic populations. The speakers at Tuesday’s event, including State Assemblywoman Carmen De La Rosa, Councilman Mark Levine and Anti-Defamation League Associate Regional Director Melanie Robbins, lauded the neighborhood’s history of accepting immigrants of all ethnicities.

Espaillat called the gathering a celebration of “a neighborhood that welcomed the survivors of the Holocaust right down the street, a neighborhood that welcomed African Americans as they fled Jim Crow in the South, a neighborhood that has welcomed people from all around the world.”

“You come and mar the sanctity of this magnificent park with a message of hate and try to disrupt the beauty that we know here of our immigrant community, you’ve just picked a fight with 20 million New Yorkers,” said Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul.

Many of the protesters were longtime Washington Heights residents.

Hanna Griff-Sleven, 59, has lived in the neighborhood for 20 years and brought a photograph of her Jewish ancestors in Lithuania.

“To see that sign here — these guys must have known that a lot of German Jews were here and how offensive it is,” she said. “That they dared to do that made me so angry. Since I’ve been here I’ve never had any of that kind of stuff happen here.”

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Under City Program, Renters-Turned-Homeowners Could Become Renters Again

NYTimes.png By Nikita Stewart

Robert Mattox was not in the position to own a home.

He was raising seven children in 1980 when New York City turned his Harlem building into a cooperative. He was asked if he wanted to buy his three-bedroom apartment.

The city began turning deteriorating buildings over to tenants to save their homes and to help the city in the 1970s. The effort was envisioned as a way to improve a neglected housing stock but also give New Yorkers with low and moderate incomes a financial stake in their homes. Mr. Mattox said he paid $250 for his co-op on 143rd Street and then continued to pay maintenance fees and taxes to retain the apartment.

But what began as a way to help renters own their homes became a challenge as many cooperatives struggled to keep up with taxes and utilities. Since 1997, the city has foreclosed on 74 cooperatives that fell behind in bills, according to data provided by the city’s Housing Preservation and Development agency.

In 2015, the city began taking action on 111 co-ops as part of a roundup of hundreds of residential buildings that were in deep debt or disrepair.

Since then, the number has dwindled as co-op owners have banded together to make arrangements with the city to pay back bills. The exact number fluctuates as residents make personal appeals and take legal action. Last week, the City Council voted to remove four cooperatives from the pending foreclosure list. But residents in about 60 cooperatives remain in danger of losing their status as owners.

Without intervention or finding a way to pay the city, the buildings will be transferred to developers for $1. But the developers will also pay the city $8,750 per unit. In exchange for a commitment to improve conditions and management, the developers will not have to pay arrears and will get tax exemptions. Once a developer takes over, the owners will become renters again. 

The failure of the low-income cooperatives serves as a reminder that good intentions can go awry. “This ain’t playing house. This is house,” said Bill Perkins, a council member who represents Harlem, home to many of the co-ops. “We’re finding that so many people couldn’t handle it.”

Some co-op owners and their advocates say the city underestimated the need for oversight and guidance.

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New York City Legionnaires cluster up to 18 cases, 1 death reported

The number of cases of Legionnaires' Disease in a cluster in Upper Manhattan has risen to 18, including one fatality, health officials said Tuesday.

Seven people remain hospitalized following the outbreak in Lower Washington Heights and Upper Hamilton Heights. The person who died has not been identified but is said to be older than 50 with underlying medical conditions.

All suspect cooling towers have been cleaned, and pending final test results, officials believe the cluster has been contained.

Anyone in the area with flu-like symptoms should see a doctor immediately.
60-year-old Lorenzo McDougan is still on a nebulizer, trying to clear out his lungs. Two months after coming down with Legionnaires' disease, he is still not 100 percent.

"I was never that sick in my life," he said.

Lorenzo was diagnosed in May. He is not counted in the latest Legionnaires' cluster in his neighborhood.

"Critical - if you're not feeling well, if you're in a risk group, make sure that you seek medical care," said Deputy Health Commissioner Dr. Demeter Daskalakis. .

While nine patients remain hospitalized, officials explain Legionnaires' is easily cured with antibiotics. The key is getting treated immediately.

The health department has pinpointed 20 water cooling towers that might be the culprit. We're told they have all been cleaned and that the problem is now contained.

"You cannot catch Legionnaires' from someone sneezing, coughing, hugging you or shaking your hand. Legionnaires' is not contagious," said City Councilman Mark Levine.

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One person dead from Legionnaires' disease outbreak in Washington Heights

New_York_Daily_News_logo_(2).png By Elizabeth Elizalde and Mikey Light

A person diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease after an outbreak in an upper Manhattan neighborhood last week has died, city health officials said Tuesday.

Washington Heights has seen 18 cases of the disease, and nine people have been discharged from the hospital, according to the city Health Department.

Seven people remain hospitalized. The victim was over 50 years old and died in the past week, officials said.

The person, whose identity was not revealed, had other risk factors that potentially compromised his or her health.

Officials added the victim wasn’t diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease early.

“It’s really important if you’re feeling sick to get attention,” said Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, the city’s deputy commissioner for disease control.

He warned that the disease came from cooling towers in buildings. Window air conditioning units are not at risk, he said.

City Councilman Mark Levine, whose district covers the neighborhood, said all cooling towers have been inspected and cleaned but there could still be outbreaks because Legionnaires’ has a two-week incubation period.

So far, 20 cooling towers have been tested, but officials didn't say which one’s showed signs of the disease.

Legionnaires’ disease is a form of pneumonia caused by the Legionella bacteria that grows in warm water, and it can’t be transmitted from person to person, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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One Dies of Legionnaires’ Disease in Upper Manhattan

NYTimes.png By Zoe Greenberg

One person has died in connection with a cluster of Legionnaires’ diseasecases in Upper Manhattan, city health officials said on Tuesday.

The city declined to release the name of the person who died, but said he or she was over 50 years old and had risk factors for Legionnaires’ disease. Common risk factors include heavy cigarette smoking, chronic lung disease and a weakened immune system.

“This case was not caught early,” said Mark Levine, a City Council member who represents the area and who had been briefed by the city. He added that the person had died in the last week.

In total, 18 people have been sickened in the area. City officials said the cluster of cases was found between 145th and 165th streets.

Nine people have been released from hospitals, according to Demetre Daskalakis, the deputy commissioner of disease control for the city. Seven are still in the hospital; one was treated as an outpatient.

Typically, Legionnaires’ disease is treatable with antibiotics.

The disease is a serious type of pneumonia commonly caused by breathing in water vapor that contains Legionella bacteria. The disease is more common in the summer, because the bacteria thrive in warm water, which can be found in cooling towers, hot water tanks and condensers in large air-conditioning units.

The city has tested 20 cooling towers but has not yet identified the source of the bacteria, Dr. Daskalakis said, because cell cultures taken from both people and cooling towers take time to grow. He added that the city had treated the water in the cooling towers where there was evidence of bacteria present.

Residents of Upper Manhattan who experience flulike symptoms should immediately see a doctor, Dr. Daskalakis said.

“We’re watching carefully,” he explained, “but we’re optimistic that the source from this has been addressed.”

Read the full story here. 

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