DIVERSE COALITION OF NATIONAL EXPERTS EXAMINES RIGHT TO COUNSEL IN NYC

TENANTS AND ELECTED OFFICIALS CALL ON ADMINISTRATION TO PASS AND FUND INTRO 214 AT MIDDAY PRESS CONFERENCE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Friday, December 5, 2014 

CONTACT: Jordan Levine 917-392-8965 / jlevine@council.nyc.gov

NEW YORK -- Fewer than 10 percent of tenants in housing court in the five boroughs have the benefit of legal counsel. In contrast, upwards of 90 percent of landlords citywide have representation. This makes housing court in New York City a dramatically uneven playing field. 

The imbalance in housing court carries a heavy toll for tenants: in 2013 there were nearly 30,000 families evicted from their homes in New York City. This figure is steadily rising, up more than 20 percent in the past decade. These evictions contribute to our record homeless population and the city's rapid loss of affordable housing.

In response, bar leaders, judges, elected officials, community members, and other experts held the first-ever public forum on the national right to counsel in eviction proceedings. It was hosted by the Impact Center for Public Interest Law at New York Law School. The forum explored the impact the right to counsel would have on housing and homelessness, public welfare, and the administration of justice. The forum also explored experiences throughout the country and around the world.

Today’s events opened with powerful and impassioned remarks from Jonathan Lippman, Chief Judge for the New York State Court of Appeals calling for movement on all fronts to make the ideal of equal justice a reality for every tenant in housing court. Commissioners Vicki Been of HPD and Steven Banks of HPD echoed his remarks, discussing what is already being done at the City level and the need for further action, while recognizing the challenges that lie ahead.

The forum comes at a time when the New York City Council is considering Intro 214, carried by Council Members Levine and Gibson, to provide free legal services to tenants in housing court. At the press conference portion of the conference, tenants, advocates, and elected officials gave compelling arguments for addressing this injustice:

“The lopsided nature of housing court in New York City violates any reasonable definition of justice. In the vast majority of tenant-landlord disputes only one side—the landlord—has the benefit of legal counsel. The resulting epidemic of evictions takes a tremendous human toll on families in our city and swells the population of our homeless shelters. It also leads to the loss of thousands of rent-regulated apartments each year, counteracting the expansion of affordable housing the city is working so hard to achieve,” said Council Member Mark Levine. “We can address this crisis by taking the simple and relatively inexpensive step of providing attorneys to tenants in housing court. Today’s important discussion only furthers the call for doing so now.” 

“With the growing affordable housing crisis in our City we can no longer turn a blind eye to the daily reality facing many economically struggling New York families as they find themselves falling through the cracks without any legal representation to protect their basic rights during an eviction proceeding,” Council Member Vanessa L. Gibson (D-Bronx, 16th CD) said. “The time is long overdue for our City to enshrine into law a commitment to an equitable and truly due process in Housing Court that ends the current two-tier system of civil justice that has neglected the needs of so many New Yorkers as they face the prospect of losing their homes.”    

“Most people who get evicted from our city's courts are people of color. Right to counsel is a racial justice issue. And it's a step in the long road toward the systemic change that our city so desperately needs,” said Susanna Blankley, Director of Community Action for Safe Apartments

"This is the moment.  There is no better coalition of community leaders, bar leaders, judges, civil legal services advocates and elected officials than we now have coming together at this special time in New York.  We can get this done - a right to counsel in housing court will dramatically reduce evictions, prevent homelessness, preserve affordable housing and uphold our ideals of fundamental fairness," said Adriene Holder, Attorney-in-Charge of the Civil Practice of The Legal Aid Society.

“When having a safe home is no longer viewed as a privilege to be shared like a commodity for the 1% to increase their wealth, we can move towards understanding that safe home as a basic human right,” said Shanequa Charles, Bronx Tenant, Community Action for Safe Apartments. 

"The difference between having and not having legal representation is night and day. It is because of this that I continue to support and fight for a tenants 'right to counsel," said Maria Cortes, Brooklyn Tenant, Member of Make the Road NY.

Full list of speakers: 

Welcome, Opening Remarks and Short Video

  • Commissioner Steven Banks, Human Resources Association, New York City
  • Commissioner Vicki Been, New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development
  • Susanna Blankley, Community Action for Safe Apartments
  • Dean Anthony Crowell, New York Law School
  • Hon. Jonathan Lippman, Chief Judge of the NY State Court of Appeals
  • Andrew Scherer, Impact Center for Public Interest Law at NYLS

Bar Leaders Panel

  • Glenn Lau-Kee, New York State Bar Association
  • Edwina Frances Martin, New York State Bar Association
  • Debra Raskin, New York City Bar Association
  • Alan Rothstein, New York City Bar Association (Moderator)
  • Lewis Tesser, New York County Lawyers’ Association

Community Voices Panel

  • Shanequa Charles, Community Action for Safe Apartments
  • Maria Cortes, Make the Road NY
  • Randy Dillard, Community Action for Safe Apartments
  • Armando Nunez, Pratt Area Community Council
  • Monica Ross, New York Legal Assistance Group
  • Carmen Vega-Rivera, Community Action for Safe Apartments (Moderator)

Press Conference

  • Council Member Mark Levine
  • Council Member Vanessa Gibson
  • Monica Ross, New York Legal Assistance Group
  • Soledad Franco, Community Action for Safe Apartments
  • Shanequa Charles, Community Action for Safe Apartments
  • Randy Dillard, Community Action for Safe Apartments
  • Patrick Markee, Coalition for the Homeless
  • Adriene Holder, the Legal Aid Society
  • Maria Cortes, Make the Road NY
  • Armanda Nunez, Pratt Area Community Council

Panel of Experts on Housing, Homelessness and Social Services

  • Matthew Desmond, Harvard
  • Joshua Goldfein, Legal Aid Society
  • Jenny Laurie, Housing Court Answers (Moderator)
  • Patrick Markee, Coalition for the Homeless
  • Tom Waters, Community Service Society

Panel of Experts on the Administration of Justice

  • Hon. Sabrina B. Kraus, Judge, New York City Housing Court, New York County
  • Hon. Jaya K. Madhavan, Supervising Judge, New York City Housing Court, Bronx County
  • Sateesh Nori, Legal Aid Society
  • Carlos Perez-Hall, Borah, Goldstein, Altschuler, Nahins & Goidel, P.C.
  • David Udell, National Center for Access to Justice
  • Mary Zulack, Columbia Law School (Moderator)

Panel of Experts on National & International Experience

  • Cathy Albisa, National Economic and Social Rights Initiative
  • Martha Davis, Northeastern University School of Law
  • Kate Donald, Center for Economic and Social Rights
  • Risa Kaufman, Columbia Law School (Moderator)
  • John Pollock, National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel 

###


Showing 1 reaction

  • published this page in Releases 2014-12-08 15:54:56 -0500

Sign up for our mailing list!

Report a Problem Participatory Budgeting Events