Remarks at the Announcement of Universal Access to Counsel in Housing Court

New York City Council Member Mark Levine
Remarks at the Announcement of Universal Access to Counsel in Housing Court
Sunday, February 12th, 2017
Edward A. Reynolds West Side High School

Thank you Mr. Mayor and team--especially commissioner Banks--for your support of this legislation, and for your steadfast commitment to using every tool.

And Madam Speaker, you have done more to advance the cause of civil justice than any speaker in history, and I am thrilled that we are doing it again here today in such a big way.

For decades, housing court in this city has failed to meet a basic standard of justice.  Because in eviction proceedings nearly all landlords have had attorneys and the vast majority of tenants have not.  That is by definition an uneven playing field and the results predictably have been disastrous for tenants: over 20,000 families evicted a year.

A painfully high number of these families land in our homeless shelters.  And all too often the apartments they are evicted from leave rent regulation to become market rate forever.

New York City’s eviction epidemic is a tragedy on so many levels.

But today that starts to change.

For years unscrupulous landlords have hauled tenants into housing court on the flimsiest of charges, knowing that the tenant would be unlikely to have a lawyer.

But today that starts to change.

For years tenants facing eviction without a lawyer have often been so intimidated that they have taken paltry buyouts to just walk away from their apartments midway through housing court proceedings.

But today that starts to change.

When every low-income tenant has access to an attorney it will be a game changer for this city--one that will reverberate nationally. NYC is the first place in America to take this dramatic step, and cities and states all over the nation are going to be inspired to follow our lead.

We are proving that in the Trump era we don’t just have to play defense.  We can use the power of local government to score huge wins for social and economic justice for our people.

Y eso vale la pena repetirlo en español.  Por mucho que Donald Trump nos esté fastidiando en Washington, acá en Nueva York aún podemos lograr tremendas victorias.

Nuestro mensaje hoy es sencillo: ningún inquilino en esta ciudad va a tener que enfrentar a la amenaza de un desalojo solo.  A Través de este programa todos los inquilinos de bajos recursos recibirán ayuda gratuita de un abogado en las cortes de vivienda de los cinco condados. No importa si usted es ciudadano o no o ni siquiera si usted tiene documentos.

Esto ayudará a disminuir la crisis de los desamparados, y evitará la pérdida de miles de apartamentos asequibles. You know, behind every successful battle there is a gifted general, and in this case that is my incredible Chief of Staff, Aya Keefe, who worked tirelessly and brilliantly over the past three years to make this victory possible.

In fact, there was a huge and amazing coalition of activists and attorneys and clergy and labor leaders who have organized their hearts out over the past three years, and I want to particularly acknowledge Andy Scherer, the intellectual godfather of this movement, and the amazing CASA and their lead organizer Susanna Blankley and Randy Dillard.

I also want to thank Judge Jonathan Lippman, who did so much to make this victory possible by lending his singularly powerful moral voice to our cause.

I look forward to working with all of my colleagues in the Council, and with the mayor’s team, to pass this legislation to enshrine this incredible program into law.

And I look forward to a new day for tenants, a long awaited day of justice in housing court for the most vulnerable New Yorkers. Thank you. Muchisimas gracias.

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