Tag housing

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.



Chelsea Now – DHS Ducks Capacity Crowd as CB5 Cuts Shelter Info Session Short

By Alex Ellefson, September 7

BY ALEX ELLEFSON | Plans to discuss the use of an infamous Flatiron hotel as a months-long refuge for homeless single men and women awaiting long-term housing stalled last week when a conference room was unable to accommodate scores of irate residents intent on voicing their objections.

Neighbors packed shoulder-to-shoulder — with a line of people out into the hall — to hear a presentation on the proposed shelter at the Community Board 5 (CB5) Budget, Education & City Services Committee meeting.

Chelsea Now: A House Divided: Community Debates Fate of 404 W. 20th St.

By Sean Egan, 6/9/16The sale of 404 W. 20th St. for $7.4 million set in motion the current dispute over proposed changes to the historic house. Photo by Sean Egan.

The sale of 404 W. 20th St. for $7.4 million set in motion the current dispute over proposed changes to the historic house. Photo by Sean Egan.

BY SEAN EGAN | Who can truly lay claim to pride of ownership, when it comes to what is widely regarded as the oldest house in Chelsea: those who say its structural and historical integrity must be preserved, or the person who bought it for $7.4 million and wants to make extensive renovations?

Built in 1830 and purchased in 2015 by British banker Ajoy Veer Kapoor, the home at 404 W. 20th St. (btw. Ninth & 10th Aves.) sits within the Cushman Row of the Chelsea Historic District, making any attempts at alteration subject to review by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). The renovations, which would significantly increase the size of the house, would require most of the original house to be destroyed in the process, as the new owner attests that the house is structurally unsound.

Chelsea Now: Protected Buildings Fraudulently Marked For Destruction

By Sean Egan, 1/20/16

BY SEAN EGAN | A set of residential buildings in the middle of W. 38th St. became an unassuming battle site in preserving the character of Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen, as well as a telling example of how vigilance and activism can yield results.

The buildings — two of them standing four stories tall and one at three stories — were acquired by an entity controlled by Peter Poon, who bought out the tenants living in the building in order to demolish the complex. Poon hails from Peter F. Poon Architects, known for developing budget hotels — and applied to do just that. His Dec. 2014 application indicates that he planned a 22-floor hotel on the W. 38th St. site. Furthermore, another associated application to the Department of Buildings (DOB) indicated that the current W. 38th St. buildings were single room occupancies (SROs), which they have never been. The contractors (H&O Associates) also claimed that the proposed construction would not increase or decrease the number of residences, nor would it alter their layouts — clearly at odds with the proposed demolition.

Chelsea Now: Illegal Construction, Unsafe Conditions on W. 25th St.

By Eileen Stukane, 10/21

BY EILEEN STUKANE | Four months ago, families were living normally, as they had for years, in their rent-regulated apartments at 264 and 266 W. 25th St. Today, the five-story, 17-apartment building at 264 has been transformed into a demolition and construction site, with 10 of those apartments gutted and under renovation. At 266, the five-story building next door, residents are also vacating.

Why is everybody leaving?

NY Times: Construction in Buildings Declared Vacant Surprises Some: The Tenants

By Mireya Navarro, 9/18

The complaints to the city from 292 Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, read like dispatches from chaos.

“They have huge piles of dust and concrete, which is getting tenants sick,” one said.

“Caller’s apartment is vibrating, and he is afraid his ceiling will drop,” said another.

When New York property owners plan to do work on their buildings, they are required to tell the city if people are living there and, if so, to submit plans to protect them from dust, blocked exits and other perils. But at 292 Bedford and numerous other occupied work sites, the city allowed work to proceed even though owners or their agents asserted the buildings were empty, claims that could be easily disproved through public databases, or by simply pressing the buzzers outside the front doors.

City officials acknowledge they have no system to verify whether buildings undergoing construction are unoccupied, a blind spot that tenants and their advocates argue has helped promote a climate of lawlessness, particularly for rent-stabilized residents.

Commercial Observer: City Seeks Developer for Former Hell’s Kitchen Slaughterhouse Site

by Liam La Guerre, Sept 1

The city is is collecting proposals for a mixed-use development with 100 percent affordable housing on the site of a former slaughterhouse in Hell’s Kitchen.

New York City Economic Development Corporation and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development announced a request for proposals today for the development of the city-owned site at 495 11th Avenue between West 39th and West 40th Streets near the Hudson Yards.

The property is 24,687 square feet and was once home to New York Butcher’s Dressed Meat Company, which operated a slaughterhouse at the site. Currently the city is using it as a surface parking lot for the New York Police Department.

Chelsea Now – Momentum Building to Confront Construction Permit Fraud

By Eileen Stukane, July 15

New York state and city elected officials are responding to the activism of the newly-created Community & Residents Protection Working Group (CRP), which this year has been alerting Chelsea residents to widespread building fraud that has previously gone unnoticed.

At meetings with representatives of city agencies and Community Board 4 (CB4), the CRP began to flush out owners, landlords and developers who received NYC Department of Buildings (DOB) permits for construction by routinely lying on their DOB Form PW1, section 26 applications, stating that occupied buildings were unoccupied — a statement which freed them from instituting required Tenant Protection Plans, and making conditions unlivable in order to pressure occupants to leave.

The CRP revealed that 80 occupied buildings in Chelsea were construction sites permitted through falsified applications. Seeing legal permits posted, residents of those buildings did not think they had any recourse. As research deepened, it also became apparent that this fraudulent situation is a citywide concern. The CRP’s findings ignited a call for action, which shows strong signs of being heard — especially by the DOB, which is receiving word from community leaders, and has its own reforms in the works. Although no specific corrective measures are in place, the drive for change has begun.

On June 30, 2015 five elected officials — Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, NYC Councilmember Corey Johnson, NY State Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, NY State Senator Brad Hoylman and U.S. Representative Jerrold Nadler — signed a letter addressed to DOB Commissioner Richard (Rick) Chandler, requesting a meeting with him and his appropriate staff to discuss the CRP’s findings and to “find a satisfactory way for the agencies to work together to stop the harassment and dangerous conditions facing many tenants today.”

Chelsea Now – Tenants Scrutinize NextGen NYCHA

By Zach Williams, July 15

BY ZACH WILLIAMS | New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) residents said they expect better communication and transparency in the months ahead from authority officials, as they continue to develop strategies to deal with the financial problems of public housing citywide.

About 100 people attended a town hall meeting held at Baruch College (Lexington Ave. & E. 25th St.), where NYCHA tenants asked questions of officials for about two hours on the night of July 14. A similar town hall was held on July 8 at Hunter College in East Harlem. Both events followed the unveiling of “NextGeneration NYCHA,” a plan to move the authority from the brink of fiscal catastrophe to a $230 million budgetary surplus over the next decade. Vital to the plan’s success, officials said, was the participation of residents in the process moving forward, including upcoming focus groups.

Press Wrap-Up: Lawmakers Arrested Advocating for Rent Controls

On June 3, I joined several city and state lawmakers and dozens of advocates who were arrested at the Capitol calling for stronger rent laws.  Here are some photos from the event, and below is some of the news coverage: