NYC to Become First Jurisdiction in U.S. that will Guarantee Free Legal Representation for Low-Income Tenants in Housing Court

The Landmark Legislation, known as the Right to Counsel, Offers a Blueprint for Cities Across the Country

 **FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE** Thursday, July 20, 2017
Contact: Jake Sporn // 917-842-5748 // jsporn@council.nyc.gov

New York, NY The New York City Council today voted to pass Intro 214-B, a landmark bill sponsored by Council Members Mark Levine and Vanessa Gibson, that requires the Office of Civil Justice to establish a program for legal representation for low-income tenants facing eviction in housing court within five years, in addition to establishing a pilot program to provide legal services to all NYCHA tenants in administrative proceedings this fall.

New York City is the first jurisdiction in the country to require legal representation in housing court, sparking similar measures to be introduced in other cities, including Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia.

The legislation, first introduced by Council Member Levine in 2014, calls for the City to provide New Yorkers with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty line – or $49,200 annually for a family of four – free legal representation when facing eviction or foreclosure. The program is expected to help than 400,000 New Yorkers each year, according to a report by commissioned by the New York City Bar Association. Mayor Bill de Blasio has indicated his intention to sign the bill.

In 2015, nearly 22,000 New Yorkers were evicted from their homes. Only about 20 percent of those facing eviction are represented by an attorney, compared to nearly 100 percent of landlords. Studies show that having legal representation during housing court proceedings reduces the chances of eviction by 77%, and in some cases landlords simply drop their cases after learning the tenant has an attorney.

Prior to the passage of the bill, Council Member Levine fought to increase funding for anti-eviction legal services, from $6 million in FY14 to over $60 million in FY17, resulting in a corresponding 24% drop in evictions in the last three years.

For tenants such as Ms. LeVera S. of West Harlem, whose landlord moved to evict her after she fell behind on her rent, a lawyer paid for by the City was the only thing keeping her from being forced from her home. “Having a free housing attorney was vital in saving my home when my landlord brought holdover actions to evict us, claiming we had no rights,” said Ms. LeVera S. “Our attorney’s representation and assistance in subsequent harassment cases has been vital to me in keeping my home. I’m incredibly grateful to the City for passing this bill so that no New York tenant has to face eviction in housing court without representation.”

The City’s Independent Budget Office reports that eviction is the single most common reason that families in New York City end up in shelters, and over the past decade, the share of families citing eviction as the cause for their homelessness has increased dramatically. Evictions are also leading to a loss of affordable housing, as over half of the units vacated are rent stabilized, and many of those apartments then go market rate.

The full cost of implementing the Right to Counsel is estimated to be $155 million, but the City is estimated to  save up to $320 million by reducing shelter costs, preserving regulated, affordable apartments lost to evictions and other costs associated with homelessness.

“Too many of the most vulnerable New Yorkers face eviction simply because they don’t have the means to hire an attorney. Today, the passage of this bill marks the beginning of a new era for tenants in New York City,” said City Council Member Mark Levine, lead sponsor of Intro 214. “New Yorkers have a right to affordable housing and to a fair justice system. No longer will low-income New Yorkers have to fend for themselves in Housing Court. This new law is an historic step forward in the fight against unlawful evictions. I am honored to stand alongside my colleagues as New York becomes the first city in the country to guarantee legal representation for low-income tenants in Housing Court, and I look forward to working with elected officials across the country to draft similar legislation.”

“This is a monumental day for tenants and a historic day for the City of New York.  After four years of advocating, rallying, and marching, we can finally celebrate the passage of ground breaking legislation that will curb the homelessness epidemic and end the cycle of eviction plaguing New York City. With a right to counsel in place, tenants facing eviction will finally be on an even playing field with the landlords taking them to court. I am proud to have spent four years fighting for this critically important legislation and am so thankful to the many elected officials, advocates, tenant leaders, clergy leaders, and civil legal service providers who joined Council Member Mark Levine and me in bringing equity and justice to our housing court system,” said City Council Member Vanessa Gibson.

“An individual’s socioeconomic status should have no bearing on their access to competent legal representation, especially when it comes to matters being handled in housing court,” said Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “With this legislation, the Council reaffirms its commitment to protecting tenant rights across New York City, and I thank Council Members Mark Levine and Vanessa Gibson for their relentless dedication in pushing this legislation forward and pursuing justice for New Yorkers across the five boroughs.”

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Council Member Mark Levine Statement on Renewal of Mayoral Control

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 29, 2017
CONTACT: Jake Sporn // 516-946-5253 // jsporn@council.nyc.gov

City Hall, NY -- “When I started my career as a high school teacher in the South Bronx, I saw firsthand how the old system left teachers demoralized and families frustrated. New Yorkers deserve great schools and a fair education system. Mayoral control empowers New York City to make real changes to strengthen our classrooms, and prioritize students over politics.

I applaud the state for extending mayoral control so we can get back to focusing on educating New York’s school children. This is a big win for students, parents, and teachers across the City.”

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Council Member Levine Statement on A Train Derailment

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 27, 2017
CONTACT: Jake Sporn // 516-946-5253 // jsporn@council.nyc.gov

Harlem, NY -- “New Yorkers already know the City’s subway system has become unreliable, but today’s A train derailment was a frightening demonstration that in extreme cases it can even be a threat to public safety. The MTA needs to recognize the severity of the problem so we can start a new conversation about what solutions are necessary before another accident like this occurs -- not after.

These issues must be met with immediate and dramatic action. New Yorkers have the right to a safe, reliable transit system so they can get to work, take their kids to school, and live their daily lives.

My thoughts are with the injured passengers and the families of those affected by today’s A train derailment. I am deeply grateful no lives were lost and applaud the NYPD and FDNY for their rapid response and safe evacuation of the passengers.”

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New York City Co-Names Upper West Side Block for Nobel Laureate, Elie Wiesel

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 13, 2017 
CONTACT:  (Levine) Jake Sporn // 917-842-5748 // jsporn@council.nyc.gov

Upper West Side, NY – Along with Deputy Mayor Richard Buery, today City Council Members Mark Levine and Helen Rosenthal memorialized the life of Jewish-American writer, professor, political activist, Nobel Peace Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, with a street co-naming the south west corner of West 84th Street and Central Park West as “Elie Wiesel Way.” The lifetime champion of human rights and Jewish causes and his wife raised their only son in Manhattan’s Upper West Side from the 1960s through the 1980s, residing at 239 Central Park West for over 15 years.

Wiesel was born on September 30th, 1928 and at the age of 15 was placed in a confinement ghetto by Nazi occupiers along with his parents and three siblings. Only three months after being forced into the ghetto, he and his family were deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp where he lost his mother and younger sister. Wiesel and his father were later deported to the Buchenwald concentration camp where his father perished only four months prior to the camp’s liberation.

After surviving the war, Wiesel authored over 60 books, including his acclaimed memoir Night, based on his experiences as a victim of Nazi Germany’s brutality towards Jews. Wiesel also became an outspoken activist on humanitarian issues related to violence, racism, and oppression. His leadership on these issues earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 when he asserted a sentiment still frighteningly relevant to this day, “silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

“Elie Wiesel was a moral giant whose lessons continue to reverberate today.  He preached tolerance of religious minorities, and knew first-hand the experience of being a refugee, and the vulnerability of living in this country without citizenship,” said Council Member Levine. “Mr. Wiesel’s ties to New York city were deep.  His family made their home on the Upper West Side for many years, raising their children there and attending a local synagogue.  I am excited that we will marking this local connection with a street co-naming in his honor, so that generations to come will remember the man who made ‘never again’ among the most important words uttered in the past century.”

“Throughout his life, Elie Wiesel demonstrated a remarkable commitment to and belief in humanity. Despite experiencing the depths of human evil first hand, Mr. Wiesel devoted his life to speaking and acting out on behalf of those most threatened and vulnerable among us. His prolific writing and strident humanitarianism boldly fought back against discrimination and oppression. To this day, Mr. Wiesel’s commitment to humanity shows us how we can best meet our contemporary challenges—not with hate or fear, but with love and decency. I am humbled to join Council Member Levine in memorializing Mr. Wiesel’s life with this street co-naming by his long-time home on the Upper West Side,” said Council Member Rosenthal. 

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Statement from City Council Member Mark Levine on NYC's FY 2018 Budget

**FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE** June 2nd, 2017
Contact: Jake Sporn // 917-842-5748 // jsporn@council.nyc.gov

City Hall, NY-- “This budget proves that our City is answering the challenges of the Trump era by delivering real wins for New Yorkers. For the fourth year in a row, thanks to the extraordinarily effective leadership of Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Finance Chair Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, we’ve passed a budget that makes New York a more fair, more equitable City for all.”

“We were able to increase funding for everything from more support for our seniors, to better equipment for our firefighters, to school lunches and after school programs for our children. And as Chair of the Committee on Parks, I’m particularly relieved the Council was able to save 150 critical parks maintenance workers after yet another year of the budget dance.”

“With the assault on New York City being waged by a reckless and hostile administration in Washington, New Yorkers should be relieved and proud their City has put together a budget that protects our values while investing in our future.”

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Councilman Levine Announces New District Office Service to Help Seniors, Disabled New Yorkers Stay in their Homes

**FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE** Tuesday, May 30, 2017
Contact: Jake Sporn 917-842-5748 // jsporn@council.nyc.gov

Harlem, NY -- Last week Councilman Mark Levine hosted a ‘Rent Freeze Kickoff’ event at the Hamilton Grange Senior Center with the NYC Public Engagement Unit’s Rent Freeze team to raise awareness about the City’s Rent Freeze Program, also known as the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) and Disability Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE). During the event, which brought in over 40 seniors from the neighborhood, he announced a new service being offered by his District Office (500 West 141st Street) that will make applying for these programs quicker and easier.

Though Councilman Levine’s office always offers assistance in applying for SCRIE/DRIE during regular business hours, as of May 25th, seniors and disabled members of the community will now be able to have their applications processed instantly on Thursdays.

“Ensuring that New Yorkers are able to stay in their homes has been a top priority of mine since I took office,” said Councilman Mark Levine. “The New York City Rent Freeze program has been a runaway success at accomplishing this goal for the most vulnerable populations in our community—seniors and the disabled, so I’m excited that my office will now be making it even easier to get enrolled. I strongly urge everyone in our community to help spread the word, and if you think you’re eligible, don’t hesitate to call my office for assistance in applying.”

The cost savings of the NYC Rent Freeze program increase over time and have the potential to save some New Yorkers thousands of dollars over a period of just two years. There are an estimated 151,366 eligible households for SCRIE or DRIE, however only 39% of eligible New Yorkers are actually enrolled.

The NYC Rent Freeze Program (which includes SCRIE and DRIE), helps eligible seniors and disabled persons, many of them living on fixed incomes, stay in their homes by freezing their rent. Under this program, a person’s rent is frozen at the amount they pay when you enter into the program, and the City pays their landlord the difference between the prior legal rent and increases to your rent through a property tax credit.

Qualifying tenants must:

  • Live in a rent regulated apartment; and
  • Be 62 years of age OR have a disability; and
  • Have a household income of $50,000 or less; and
  • Spend more than one ­third of your monthly household income on rent

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Council Member Levine Leads City Council to Approve Morningside Heights Historic District

**FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE** Wednesday, May 24, 2017
Contact: Jake Sporn 917-842-5748 // jsporn@council.nyc.gov\

Morningside Heights, NY -- Following a decades long fight to designate the Morningside Heights Historic District (MHHD), today New York City Council Member Mark Levine declared victory for the community as he voted to approve the designation in the City Council with the unanimous support of his colleagues.

Earlier this year, the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) unanimously approved the 115-building MHHD in Manhattan, citing their architectural, historic and cultural significance. In conjunction with the designation, the agency launched a 3-D webmap providing users with detailed information about the buildings comprising New York City’s newest landmark.

The new district consists of 115 residential and institutional buildings in an area stretching from West 109th Street to West 119th Street, Riverside Drive to Amsterdam Avenue. Like much of the Upper West Side, the earliest residential development in the proposed district includes private town houses such as 625-627 West 113th Street (1897-98) and speculative rows such as 604-616 West 114th Street (1896) that were built in the 1890s. However, it was the arrival of the IRT subway in 1904 with stops at 110th and 116th Streets that spurred development and rapidly transformed the area into a neighborhood of apartment buildings marketed to the middle class.

“More so than almost any other neighborhood in New York City, Morningside Heights is defined by its history,” said Council Member Mark Levinewho represents the area. “We are incredibly lucky that its unique architectural identity has survived remarkably intact into the 21st Century. As part of Morningside Heights’ new historic landmark designation, over 115 historic buildings essential to the identity and heritage of our community will now be preserved for decades to come. I am incredibly grateful to have worked with the Morningside Heights Historic District Committee, and the countless residents who overwhelmingly supported this proposal, to shepherd this designation through the City Council.”

“If you ask most residents if Morningside Heights should be a Historic District, they would probably tell you that we already have one! At long last they will be correct,” said Laura Friedman, President of the Morningside Heights Historic District Committee. “We thank Council Member Levine for his invaluable leadership in bringing a Historic District to Morningside Heights, and look forward to working with him in the second phase of this important project. Our community, in all its historic splendor, will finally achieve the recognition it deserves.”

On December 6th, 2016, Council Member Levine offered testimony in support of the MHHD before the LPC, which can be read in full here.

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Council Member Levine’s 4th Annual Health Fair Draws in Nearly 800 Upper Manhattan Community Members

**FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE** Monday, May 22, 2017
Contact: Jake Sporn 917-842-5748 // jsporn@council.nyc.gov

Harlem, NY -- In partnership with dozens of local community organizations, health advocacy groups and city agencies,  City Council Member Mark Levine hosted his office’s 4th Annual Community Health Fair this past Saturday in Riverbank State Park. The annual event drew in its largest crowd ever with nearly 800 community members taking part.

During the event, Council Member Levine gave away over 673 bike helmets for 304 Children and 369 adults with the Department of Transportation to help promote the City’s Vision Zero initiative.

Additionally, nearly 100 families received free smoke detectors courtesy of the FDNY, and dozens of free health exams were conducted through partnerships with the New York Presbyterian Ambulatory Care Network, the American-Italian Cancer Foundation, WellCare and Mount Sinai Hospital.

Performances and demonstrations were also conducted by Urban Yoga, Dances for a Variable Population and local cultural organization Mano Mano.

“Every year I look forward to hosting this event for the community,” said Council Member Levine. “The importance of making informed choices about your health can’t be overstated, and I am so proud that we were able to reach out to so many organizations and members of the community to give away free fitted bike helmets, access to free health exams, and to expose them to the dozens of health advocacy organizations who are rooted right here in our community.”

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Council Members Propose New Incentive for New Yorkers to Drive Electric

 **FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE** Wednesday, May 10th, 2017
Contact: Jake Sporn 917-842-5748 // jsporn@council.nyc.gov

City Hall, NY -- To incentivize New Yorkers to drive fully electric vehicles, City Council Members Mark Levine and Costa Constantinides have introduced a bill that would allow the owners of such cars to park at Muni-Meters for free on Saturdays.

As New York City seeks to reach its goal of reducing greenhouse gasses 80% by 2050, this new legislation is designed to increase the number of New Yorkers using fully electric vehicles (EVs) by creating an additional benefit for owners. The New York Metro Area currently ranks third nationally in terms of the number of EVs in operation, lagging only behind Los Angeles and the Bay Area. However, between 2011 and 2015 only 2,230 EVs have been registered in New York City, showing substantial room for growth in a City with over 1.4 million cars.

Though there are currently numerous benefits for those seeking to drive electric vehicles including federal and state tax rebates, access to HOV lanes regardless of vehicle occupants, and discounts for City and state tolls, research shows that increasing EV adoption rates relies on creating incentives. Norway for example, which leads the world in EV adoption, offers up to $18,000 in incentives to purchase one.

The proposed law has the potential to add a significant financial incentive for New York drivers. For a driver in Manhattan, where the majority of the City’s public charging stations are available, this benefit could save an EV driver up to over $2,184 in parking costs annually. The average EV driver from the outer boroughs could save up to $624 annually.

Anticipating the program’s success in growing the number of EVs in New York City, the proposed law will expire after a period of three years.

Council Member Mark Levine said, “Creating new incentives for people to buy electric cars is imperative if we’re going to slash New York City’s carbon footprint 80% by 2050. This benefit has the potential to yield meaningful savings for those who drive electric cars--up to $2,184 annually--at minimal cost to the City, which took in over $545 million in parking fines last year alone. We’ve already made incredible strides towards encouraging New Yorkers to drive electric vehicles, but we need to keep doing more. New York should be leading the charge when it comes to electric vehicle use, and I am proud to work with my colleague, Council Member Constantinides, to make this benefit a reality.”

Council Member Costa Constantinides said, “Over 20% of New York City’s energy usage – or around 9.1 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions – comes from our transportation sector.If we are going to reach our city’s goal of reducing greenhouses gases 80% by 2050, we must ensure that we’re looking at innovative solutions to reduce fossil fuel usage. That’s why I’m proud to support this bill to exempt electric vehicles from Muni-Meter requirements on Saturdays, as it promotes sustainability without interfering in the total number of available parking spaces. I want to thank Council Member Levine for all the hard work he’s done on this issue.”

"If we are to meet our ambitious goals for getting 700,000 zero emissions vehicles on the road in New York State by 2025 and reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050, we need a diverse array of incentives that encourage consumers to make the switch. We are pleased to see Council Member Levine and Council Member Constantinides proposing such a financial benefit in the form of free parking to boost electric vehicle adoption," said Marcia Bystryn, President of the New York League of Conservation Voters.

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Council Introduces Legislation to Protect Tenants From Harassment

**FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE** April 5, 2017
CONTACT: Jake Sporn // 917-842-5748 // jsporn@council.nyc.gov

City Hall, NY -- To address the prevailing issue of tenant harassment in New York, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, along with Council Members Mark Levine, Carlos Menchaca, Ritchie Torres, Helen Rosenthal and Jumaane Williams have introduced a package of legislation that will make it easier for tenants to win and pursue harassment cases against abusive landlords.

Under current law, tenants in housing court are obligated to prove that an owner deliberately harassed them with the intent of causing said tenant to leave their dwelling. In addition to expanding the definition of what constitutes harassment, the proposed package would strengthen current protections by creating a rebuttable presumption for tenant harassment claims, meaning tenants would no longer be required to prove an owner’s intent in court.

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