Testimony Before NYC Human Resources Administration: Expand & Strengthen Tenants’ Right to Counsel

Testifying on behalf of tenants’ right to counsel before the NYC Human Resources Agency, November 15, 2018

Testimony by Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried Before the NYC Human Resources Administration’s Office of Civil Justice

                                        Public Hearing on the                                                      Universal Access to Legal Services Program for Tenants Facing Eviction

                                Thursday, November 15, 2018

My name is Richard N. Gottfried.  I represent the 75th Assembly District in Manhattan, which includes the neighborhoods of Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, Midtown, and part of the Upper West Side and Murray Hill.  Thank you for this opportunity to testify about the Right to Counsel program.

Right to Counsel (RTC) or Universal Access to Legal Counsel (UATC) in Housing Court became a New York City law in 2017.  With this law, some, but not all, low-income tenants have the right to have a lawyer provided to them if they are sued in Housing Court by their landlord.  Before Right to Counsel was enacted, landlords tried to evict over 230,000 tenants a year.  Most of those tenants were low-income people, and predominantly people of color and immigrants.

The program has quickly made a real difference in the lives of many people.  Since the implementation of Right to Counsel, evictions are down 24 percent from 2014; filings are down 10% from 2014; and shelter entries from evictions are down. The program contributes to preserving affordable housing and stable communities by keeping people out of court and out of homeless shelters.  But there are too many people who cannot access the program because of the income level requirement.  The next step is to expand and strengthen the successful Right to Counsel program.

City Council Members Mark Levine, Vanessa Gibson and Diana Ayala have introduced legislation, Intro 1104-2018,  to increase the income threshold of 200% of the federal poverty level to 400% and to expand the types of cases covered by RTC to include administrative hearings such as those in HPD, and the NYS HCR (Homes and Community Renewal) agency, as well as for cases that are appealed and a portion that land in state Supreme Court.  These would be important steps ahead.

More must be done to increase outreach and tenant awareness.  The City needs to finance efforts by various community organizations to educate tenants about when they are entitled to legal representation.

It continues to be a challenge to get the word out to tenants that the right to counsel in Housing Court exists and how to find out if they are eligible and where to go.  As part of the RTC implementation, New York City’s Tenant Support Unit knocks on doors to advise tenants at risk of eviction that they are entitled to a lawyer.  More tenant outreach and education is needed and can best be provided by neighborhood-based groups with a history of tenant organizing, as well as the Tenant Support Unit. Increased funding to neighborhood-based groups already doing education and outreach would contribute to the effectiveness of the right to counsel program.

Several public awareness efforts, if funded by the City, would help tenants learn of the new right.  Efforts such as subway ads, tele-town halls, mass mailings, email and social media, and a hotline are all possible ways to increase access to the program

After only a year, Right to Counsel has proven its effectiveness.  It should be expanded and strengthened.

 

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New York Daily News: New York State Bill to Boost Prisoner Health Care to be Introduced Following Reports of Treatment That Led to 50 Deaths

By Reuven Blau, November 12

Assembly Member Richard Gottfried plans to create legislation to give the state Department of Health more power over prisoner medical treatment. (Anthony DelMundo/New York Daily News)

Prisoner health care must be significantly improved and staffing levels should be regularly monitored, a state lawmaker said Monday following reports of horrific medical abuses that led to 50 deaths over the past five years.

State Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan) will introduce legislation to give the state Department of Health more oversight power over prisoner medical treatment. Currently, medical treatment is largely handled internally by the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

“People in prison and jail, sort of by definition, are not looked at kindly by most New Yorkers,” Gottfried said. “We also have to realize they are human beings. They are in our custody, and we have a constitutional obligation to protect their health, whether they have done wrong or not.”

The Daily News on Monday reported that a state medical review board concluded 50 prisoner deaths may have been prevented had they gotten better health care.

Commission of Correction review panels repeatedly criticized prison medical staff for failing to complete basic checkups and mental health screenings. In multiple cases, doctors and nurses totally discounted prisoner complaints until they were too serious, according to the death probes.

Gottfried’s proposed legislation will also require state officials to study health care staffing in prisons and issue a report on the issue twice each year.

The number of health care practitioners employed by the department shrank by 3%, according to DOCCS. Some doctors are in charge of 500 or more prisoners.

“I think today it is all too easy to ignore inadequate staffing in prisons and jails particularly relating to health care,” Gottfried said. “If DOCCS and the Health Department are required to study and report on it that gets us a lot closer to dealing responsibility with it.”

The legislation was introduced last year but failed to pass the Assembly after it got stuck in the Codes Committee. The bill would also have likely gotten voted down in the GOP-controlled State Senate.

Gottfried believes the Democratic takeover of the Senate will lead to its passing.

In 2009, Gottfried and former State Sen. Thomas Duane passed a similar measure requiring the Department of Health to “conduct annual reviews of HIV and Hepatitis C care” in correctional facilities. That bill, which was signed by former Gov. David Paterson, has been hailed as a success by prison advocates.

Gothamist: Can NY Make The Leap To Universal, Government-Run Healthcare?

By Caroline Lewis, August 22

Since it was first introduced in 1992, a bill that would provide New Yorkers with universal health care has passed the state Assembly five times, including the last four years in a row, but it has always died in the Republican-controlled State Senate. Now, the New York Health Act—which aims to replace all existing forms of health insurance with one state-run, tax-funded health plan for everyone—is just one sponsor short of a majority in the Senate. With elections coming up for state lawmakers, the Senate could be poised to flip, giving the bill a chance of making it as far as Governor Andrew Cuomo’s desk.

Some 59 percent of Americans now support a Medicare for all model under which everyone would qualify for a government health plan, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll. Cuomo’s Democratic challenger Cynthia Nixon, candidates vying for state Senate seats, and some members of the New York City Council—including Speaker Corey Johnson—are framing support for single-payer as both a moral imperative and a progressive badge of honor.

The New York Health Act has reached the level of political viability for people on both sides of the ideological divide to start taking it seriously enough to get into the details of what it would entail.

Politico NY: Gottfried closing in on half-century in Albany

By Bill Mahoney, July 3

ALBANY — There are certain things New Yorkers can count on. They know that rush-hour subway service will be maddeningly slow. They realize that the Mets will lose key players to the disabled list. And they assume that Assemblyman Dick Gottfried will run for reelection every two years.

But while the subways and the Mets are capable of upsetting expectations, in theory anyway, Gottfried has no intention of doing so. He has stood for election in his Hell’s Kitchen- and Chelsea-area district 24 times beginning in 1970. And he’s doing it again this year.

Assuming he wins — that outcome isn’t really in doubt — and finishes his term, he’ll enter the record books as one of only two legislators in New York history to serve for half a century. (The late John Marchi, who represented Staten Island in the state Senate from Jan. 1, 1957, to Dec. 31, 2006, is the other.)

Technically, Gottfried will become the longest-serving New York legislator ever, assuming he wins in November. He’ll have been in office for 18,262 days compared to Marchi’s 18,261, thanks to the way leap years have fallen during his tenure.

All those decades of service have made Gottfried something of an institution in Albany at the age of 71. And with seniority comes power — as chairman of the Assembly Health Committee for years, he has been present at the creation of significant health care initiatives through several gubernatorial administrations.

Chelsea Now: Food and Fun in Chelsea at the National Night Out Against Crime

BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC, August 8

The temperature, like the chicken being grilled, was sizzling — but the mood was buoyant at the annual National Night Out Against Crime on Tues., Aug. 7.

The event — a way for the police and the community to come together — was held locally by Chelsea’s 10th Precinct, and took place at the Fulton Houses on W. 17th St., between Ninth and 10th Aves.

“I think it’s great for the community,” said Jennifer Beeks, 35, who has been living at the Fulton Houses for three years. “It gives the children a chance not to be fearful of the police.”

Press wrap-up: RAND study confirms NY Health expands coverage, net savings

A new report by the RAND Corporation finds that the New York Health Act single-payer bill would cover all New Yorkers while generating a net savings.  More information can be found here; the full report here; and a summary here.

The report has generated widespread press coverage including:

PRESS RELEASE: RAND study confirms NY Health expands coverage, net savings

RAND CORPORATION STUDY CONFIRMS: NEW YORK HEALTH ACT “COULD EXPAND COVERAGE WHILE REDUCING TOTAL HEALTH SPENDING”

Think tank concludes: New York Health would cover all New Yorkers with net health care savings

Bill sponsors Senator Rivera and Assembly Member Gottfried will continue to push for the passage during the next legislative session

            State Senator Gustavo Rivera and Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried, sponsors of the New York Health Act in the New York State Legislature, welcomed the findings of a study of the bill by the highly-regarded, independent, non-profit RAND Corporation. The study confirms that New York Health would reduce total health care costs, while increasing spending on actual care rather than administration and insurance company profit; provide full health coverage to every New Yorker; save substantial money for almost all New Yorkers; and generate a net increase in employment due to increases in disposable income.

NY Times: It Wasn’t a Crime to Carry Marijuana. Until the Police Found a Loophole.

By Benjamin Mueller,  August 2

It was the 1970s, and marijuana raids and mass arrests had been sweeping college campuses and suburban concert venues in New York. The crackdown outraged parents. There was talk of ruined reputations and “Gestapo” police tactics.

State legislators in 1977 devised what they took to be a simple fix: a bill that made carrying small supplies of marijuana a ticket-worthy violation, not a crime. To win enough votes from Republicans, the authors carved out an exception that said it was still a crime to carry marijuana “open to public view.”

The bill’s backers thought the addition was harmless enough, given that people did not usually take out their stash in front of the police anyway. The era of mass arrests for carrying around marijuana seemed to be over.

City & State: Gottfried’s Janus Workaround Reopens Labor Debate

By Max Parrott, July 10

When information leaked to the Empire Center, a fiscally conservative think tank, that Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, a Democrat from Manhattan, was planning to sponsor legislation that would reverse the effects of the Supreme Court’s recent Janus decision limiting the power of public sector unions, it swiftly attacked the bill as unconstitutional.

The Janus ruling on June 27 held that public sector unions cannot force employees covered by collective bargaining agreements to pay membership dues. Five days later, Gottfried circulated a memo to members of the Assembly summarizing his proposal, which would allow unions to collect reimbursement for the costs of collective bargaining from the state rather than from employees who opt out through agency fees.

Absent an intervention like Gottfried’s, the Janus decision will start draining funds from unions. Last week, it was reported that the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, announced it will cut its budget by $28 million.

The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision, which was split along the usual conservative-liberal dividing line, ruled that the government cannot compel employees to support collective bargaining because to do so infringes on the free speech rights of anti-union workers.

NY Post: Dem lawmaker has “workaround” to SCOTUS unions decision

By Nolan Hicks, July 4

New York’s most senior Democratic lawmaker is proposing an end-run around a US Supreme Court ruling that could cost the state’s powerful public-employee unions more than $100 million a year.

Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), a longtime labor ally, plans to introduce legislation that would allow unions to include collective-bargaining costs in their contracts with government agencies to replace the mandatory fees banned under last month’s Janus v. ­AFSCME ruling.

“I would call it a workaround,” said Gottfried, who has served for 50 years in Albany. “I don’t think there’s a lot of logic to the Janus decision to start with, but New York state — in our Constitution and law — has long recognized that public employees have the right to collectively bargain.”