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A Push for Statewide Right to Counsel Legislation

Joint Legislative Budget Hearing on Housing

Catholic Migration Services Testimony on Urgent Need to Fund and Pass Statewide Right to Counsel (S2721)

Catholic Migration Services is a proud member of the Right to Counsel Coalition, which unites tenants, organizers, legal services providers, unions, faith communities and many others who are working to ensure that all New Yorkers across the state have a Right to Counsel when facing eviction. We and members of our Housing Courts Must Change! Campaign collectively represent tens of thousands of tenants across New York State and are honored to work on permanent and transformative solutions to New York’s eviction crisis.

Catholic Migration Services, a not-for-profit legal services provider affiliated with Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, provides free legal services and Know Your Rights education to low-income individuals regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, or immigration status. We assist immigrants with immigration legal services, tenants in Queens with housing legal services, and low-wage workers with employment legal services.

The historic passage in 2017 of New York City’s Right to Counsel law made NYC the first place in the nation to establish a Right to Counsel for tenants facing eviction, and inspired a movement across the country, which has now seen over 20 cities, states and counties win a Right to Counsel, including Westchester County in 2023. The statistics speak for themselves: 84% of NYC tenants with a Right to Counsel lawyer have won their case and been able to remain in their homes; and default evictions as well as eviction filings have dropped dramatically. San Francisco saw a 10% drop in eviction filing rates in just one year after passing a universal RTC, and two-thirds of all represented tenants were able to remain in their homes. Cleveland found that within the first six months of having Right to Counsel, 93% of tenants with a Right to Counsel lawyer avoided eviction or an involuntary move.

Right to Counsel works. It’s a solution with a proven track record of success everywhere it’s passed. Yet while New York City led this charge, the majority of New Yorkers still lack this fundamental right. And with landlords suing over 175,000 New Yorkers for eviction, New York State needs Right to Counsel now more than ever. In many localities across the state, only a fraction of tenants facing eviction are represented. In Albany, for example, in 2022, less than 2% of tenants had an attorney, while the vast majority of landlords were represented. This rate of representation is even lower when it comes to affirmative cases to protect against neglect of repairs, harassment or illegal lock out. Most tenants outside of New York City experience housing court as a place that only exists to facilitate eviction–a place where they have little to no recourse to assert their own rights, in particular, their right to a safe, habitable home.

That’s why we are now fighting, with over 100 statewide partners, for a Statewide Right to Counsel. S2721, our Right to Counsel for ALL legislation introduced by Senator Rachel May, guarantees the right to a free attorney for all New Yorkers facing displacement across the state. This year we are also requesting $260 million in funding to begin Right to Counsel’s implementation. $260 million is the necessary first step in empowering a wholesale change in our court system. It’s going to allow for tens of thousands more tenants to be represented. It will equip attorneys to fully litigate their cases and help ensure long-term housing stability for tenants. It will transform workplace conditions for legal providers and help us to compete nationally, attracting the next generation of civil legal talent to New York State. It will support organizers whose work is essential to ensuring tenants know what their rights are and how to use them. And it will establish a new state agency, the Office of Civil Representation, to oversee the Right to Counsel.

We urge you to support the funding and passage of Right to Counsel in the budget this year. As a society, we cannot stand by any longer while New Yorkers are forced into a confusing and traumatizing court system without counsel by their side, and as a result, face devastating consequences that could’ve been avoided. We know that establishing this right will keep New Yorkers in their homes, prevent an array of long-lasting harms to our families and communities, and save our state money in the long-term. New York has every reason to pass and fund S2721 in the budget this year, and we count on your leadership to ensure this happens.


Click here to read the original testimony submitted to the NYS Assembly: Catholic Migration Services Testimony on Urgent Need to Fund and Pass Statewide Right to Counsel (S2721)

Woodside Rallies for Tenants’ Rights

Woodside Rallies for Tenants’ Rights: A Push for Statewide Legal Counsel in Eviction Cases (Photo: BNN)

In the News – Woodside Rallies for Tenants’ Rights: A Push for Statewide Legal Counsel in Eviction Cases

February 25, 2024
By Nimrah Khatoon, BNN Breaking

Discover the transformative power of legal representation highlighted at the ‘Queens United: Town Hall for Right to Counsel’ event in Woodside, Queens, as community leaders rally for increased legal aid for tenants facing eviction.

In the heart of Woodside, Queens, a passionate gathering unfolded on February 21, 2024, marking a pivotal moment in the fight for tenants’ rights. The ‘Queens United: Town Hall for Right to Counsel’ event, orchestrated by local non-profit groups, drew a crowd that included Assembly Members Steven Raga and Juan Ardila, alongside community residents and leaders from Woodside on the Move and Catholic Migration Services. The spotlight was on the Right to Counsel NYC Coalition (RTC NYC), vocalizing a compelling plea for a $300 million budget allocation to fortify legal aid for tenants on the brink of eviction.

A Personal Touch to a Public Issue

Assembly Member Steven Raga, sharing poignant snippets of his own brush with eviction, underscored the transformative power of legal representation. The 2017 law, a legacy of former mayor Bill de Blasio, was hailed for its strides in guaranteeing Housing Court representation for low-income residents. Yet, Raga and the RTC NYC spotlighted a glaring gap — the myriad tenants still in the dark about their rights or ensnared in legal battles without timely counsel.

The Crusade for Comprehensive Coverage

The clarion call at the town hall was not just for awareness but for actionable change. The coalition’s advocacy for legislation to educate tenants, decelerate eviction proceedings, and broaden the right to counsel statewide with additional funding echoed through Woodside. With the Statewide Right to Counsel bill garnering substantial support among New York State senators and assembly members, these community events serve as critical conduits for rallying support and spreading the word.

Parallel Pathways: The Broader Right to Counsel Movement

The quest for legal representation extends beyond housing courts, touching the lives of immigrants facing removal proceedings. Advocates from the CARE for Immigrant Families campaign for a right to counsel in all immigration removal cases, with a proposed $150 million funding for immigration legal services. This movement, akin to the push in Woodside, underscores a broader societal recognition of the right to counsel as fundamental, not just in eviction scenarios but in all legal battles that can profoundly impact lives.

The town hall in Woodside is more than a local affair; it’s a beacon for statewide — and potentially nationwide — reform. As community leaders and residents unite in their call for justice, the echoes of their advocacy resound far beyond the confines of Queens, heralding a future where the right to legal counsel is an unassailable pillar of justice for all.


Read the original article on BNN Breaking: Woodside Rallies for Tenants’ Rights: A Push for Statewide Legal Counsel in Eviction Cases

Woodside Residents Call for Statewide Right to Counsel

Several of the attendees at the townhall held on Feb. 21, 2024. QNS Photo

In the News – Assemblymembers Raga and Ardila join dozens of Woodside residents fighting for statewide right to counsel

Feb. 25, 2024
By Czarinna Andres and QNS Staff

Several non-profit groups held a town hall meeting in Woodside Wednesday evening where they advocated for the statewide right to counsel for tenants facing eviction.

The event, held at the St. Sebastian’s Parish Center and called Queens United: Town Hall for Right to Counsel,” was attended by Assembly Members Steven Raga and Juan Ardila, along with dozens of residents and the leaders of Woodside on the Move and Catholic Migration Services.

The town hall, which was led by the Right to Counsel NYC Coalition (RTC NYC), an advocacy group that wants tenants facing eviction across the state to be provided with free counsel, featured a teach-in explaining the organization’s demands, including $300 million in the New York City budget to fund legal aid for tenants.

Raga, a Woodside native who holds the Assembly District 30 seat, said Wednesday night that he had first-hand experience of the trauma of being evicted, adding that right to counsel can help protect tenants in court.

“I was raised by an immigrant single mother who was evicted multiple times,” Raga said Wednesday.

“I could see how being in such an unstable environment, especially as a child, can really turn your world upside down. Something like this (RTC) can help prevent and deter the moral wrong of a landlord trying to push you out.”

RTC NYC led the campaign to introduce right to counsel legislation in New York City, which was signed into law by former mayor Bill de Blasio in 2017. The law promises legal representation in Housing Court to any resident facing eviction whose income is 200% of the federal poverty level or less.

The group claims the law has had a positive impact on tenants facing eviction, stating that 84% of tenants who accessed legal counsel under the law have won their case in Housing Court.

However, Katy Lassell, campaign organizer with RTC NYC, said many New York City tenants are still facing the court without legal representation because they are unaware of right to counsel. She said RTC seeks legislation that requires courts to make tenants aware of this right before a case is heard.

Furthermore, she added, many cases proceed so fast that tenants do not have time to obtain legal counsel. RTC NYC is calling on the courts to slow down eviction hearings to give tenants time to obtain counsel.

The non-profit is seeking protections for tenants across the Empire State. It seeks right to counsel on a statewide basis and is additionally calling for an extra $300 million in funding to ensure that New York City tenants can avail of legal counsel in Housing Court.

The coalition is pushing for the passage of three bills in the New York State Legislature, including the Statewide Right to Counsel bill, which will guarantee all New Yorkers access to a free attorney when facing eviction. The bill also sets out the need for $172 million in funding for the program.

It is also calling on the legislature to pass the Winter Eviction Moratorium, which would prevent judges from issuing eviction warrants between Oct. 1 and May 31, and the Defend Right to Counsel bill, which mandates that the state court system upholds local right to counsel laws in New York City and Westchester.

Raga said right to counsel legislation has been demonstrably positive for tenants in New York City but said it needed to be expanded to cover the entire state.

“People are better off than we were when it wasn’t there. We’ve seen how it could help and we need to spread this outside the city, but also fund it so that more folks in the city can access and be protected. There’s nothing wrong with protecting our New Yorkers, especially the most vulnerable.”

The Statewide Right to Counsel bill has received the support of 32 senators (51%) in the New York State Senate, while 62 assembly members (41%) have endorsed it in the State Assembly.

Meanwhile, Raga said more than 30 assembly members have supported a call for the provision of $172 million in the state budget for right to counsel.

“It’s a good sign that we have 30-plus assembly members signing onto the budget letter. It shows that there’s overwhelming support for it,” Raga said.

He added that community events such as Wednesday’s town hall, which drew around 60 participants, are pivotal to the success of the statewide right to counsel movement.

“These are natural, organic events that help spread the word and show how we can support each other,” Raga said. “That sets the tone and gives guys like me a chance to prove in Albany that this isn’t an abstract, theoretical thing. I can show that people need it, people are organizing for it, and people deserve it.”

Ardila, who holds the Assembly District 37 seat, said Wednesday that statewide right to counsel is “incredibly important,” especially for minority communities.

“This is something that’s very personal for me because we see how many communities of color and undocumented immigrants suffer from this due to a lack of representation navigating the legal system,” Ardila said Wednesday. “They are not the only ones, but they are often time victims of unscrupulous landlords or unscrupulous evictions.”

Representatives from local community groups said Queens tenants are still facing the Housing Court without legal representation.

Bryan Fotino, tenant organizer with Catholic Migration Services, said the group frequently travel to Queens Housing Court to support local tenants who are facing evictions without legal counsel.

Frances Macalimbon Hamed, a policy and advocacy coordinator with Woodside on the Move, said she has also seen Queens tenants face the Housing Court without legal representation and added that some tenants are simply not aware of the Right to Counsel law.

“All New York City residents should be made aware that in NYC if they meet certain eligibility requirements they may be eligible for Right to Counsel. Often, many of the tenants Woodside on the Move encounters at Housing Court are unaware of their Right to Counsel and are forced to defend themselves alone,” Macalimbon Hamed said.

“Evictions are traumatizing. Evictions destabilize families and entire communities. And evictions have both immediate and long-term emotional, social, and economic implications.”


Read the original article in the Queens Post: Assemblymembers Raga and Ardila join dozens of Woodside residents fighting for statewide right to counsel

Deputy Director

JOB ANNOUNCEMENT
DEPUTY DIRECTOR

ABOUT CATHOLIC MIGRATION SERVICES:
Catholic Migration Services (“CMS”), an affiliated agency of Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens, provides high quality free legal services, community education, and advocacy for low-income immigrants residing in Brooklyn and Queens, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, or immigration status. CMS annually assists approximately 6,000 individuals with their immigration, housing, and employment legal needs from our two offices in Downtown Brooklyn and Sunnyside, Queens. CMS is committed to “welcoming the stranger in our midst” by serving and working alongside underserved immigrant communities to advance equality and social justice.

POSITION:
CMS has created a new position of Deputy Director to oversee our development work and support the Director of Legal Services’ management of the agency. The Deputy Director will manage almost all aspects of the agency’s development efforts, including foundation grants, government contracts, and other fundraising. CMS has an annual budget of approximately $5.7 million, which includes funding from various government agencies (city, state and federal), foundations, individual and corporate donations and special events. The Deputy Director will work with the Director of Legal Services and program managers to identify the funding needs of the agency, strategize for how to meet those needs, secure new or renewal grants and donations, and report to funders on our work, especially City, State and Federal agencies.

ESSENTIAL DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES:

    • Work with the Director of Legal Services and the Management team to help oversee all CMS programs and operations;
    • Design and manage the implementation of systems to support staff;
    • Work with Director of Legal Services and the Senior Development Associate to maintain and build CMS’ funding streams and respond to RFPs;
    • Lead the application process for new and renewal funding with federal, state, and city agencies, foundations, and other funders, and manage the post-award contracting process;
    • Work with the Grants Associate to compile, draft and submit detailed data-driven timely program reports to funders;
    • Oversee communications to current and potential donors;
    • Participate in funder and partner meetings, trainings, and conferences;
    • Provide guidance on grant changes and updates, implement procedures for data collection and case management and monitor grant performance, data collection. and data integrity;
    • With the Director of Legal Services oversee other events including staff trainings and retreats; and
    • Supervise the Grants Associate and a Senior Development Associate.

QUALIFICATIONS:

  • At least 5 years of management and/or supervisory experience in a non-profit setting;
  • Excellent oral and written communication skills;
  • Experience working with organizations in the legal services field;
  • Grant writing and reporting experience;
  • Proficiency with Microsoft Office (Outlook, Excel, Word) and Legal Server case management database;
  • Demonstrated ability to take initiative and work independently, as well as to work collaboratively with a team; and
  • Commitment to social justice.
  •  

DIVERSITY AND NON-DISCRIMINATION POLICY:
Catholic Migration Services values workplace diversity and welcomes applicants and employees of all backgrounds. CMS strives to create a positive, supportive, and inclusive work environment for all staff. CMS makes all employment decisions without regard to any applicant’s or employee’s protected characteristics, including their race, religion, color, national origin, immigration status, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, arrest or conviction record, or marital status.

SALARY AND BENEFITS:
The salary range for this position is $90,000 to $125,000. CMS offers a very competitive salary and benefits package that includes medical, dental and vision insurance coverage, transit benefits, Flexible Spending Account (FSA) and a 403(b) retirement plan including employer contribution. We offer generous leave policies, including four weeks paid vacation, four paid personal days, fourteen paid holidays and the week off between Christmas and New Year’s Days, inclusive.

APPLICATION INSTRUCTIONS:
Applications will be accepted immediately and will be considered on a rolling basis. Interested applicants should send a cover letter and resume to Magdalena Barbosa, Director of Legal Services at mbarbosa@catholicmigration.org.


Download this job announcement as a PDF: Deputy Director

Tenant Organizer, Housing

JOB ANNOUNCEMENT
TENANT ORGANIZER, HOUSING

ABOUT CATHOLIC MIGRATION SERVICES

Catholic Migration Services (“CMS”), an affiliated agency of Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens, provides high quality free legal services, community education, and advocacy for low- income immigrantsresiding in Brooklyn and Queens, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, or immigration status. CMS assists individuals with their immigration, housing, and employment legal needs. CMS is committed to “welcoming the stranger in our midst” by serving and working alongside underserved immigrant communities to advance equality and social justice in an ever-changing landscape.

POSITION:

CMS seeks a full-time, highly motivated, experienced, and passionate tenant organizer to join our dynamic Housing team. The tenant organizer will work towards building tenant power in buildings wheretenants are at risk of displacement and harassment by landlords. The community organizer will report to the Managing Attorney of the Housing team.

ESSENTIAL DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES:

  • Coordinate monthly community meetings for tenants;
  • Lead Know Your Rights presentations;
  • Conduct outreach, e. door-knocking and virtual outreach to tenants;
  • Help form and support Tenant Associations;
  • Work collaboratively with members of the legal team;
  • Support leadership development in Tenant Association and campaign spaces;
  • Conduct outreach and participate in coalition and campaign meetings, retreats, actions and events, and
  • Participate in various NYC

QUALIFICATIONS:

  • Minimum of 2-3 years of experience in tenant organizing and base-building or working in coalition on a campaign is required;
  • Excellent interpersonal and problem solving skills;
  • Fluency in Spanish is strongly preferred;
  • Familiarity with Microsoft Word and Excel and ability to learn other softwareprograms;
  • Willingness to work some evenings and weekends;
  • Ability to travel throughout New York City and Albany;
  • Demonstrated ability to take initiative and work independently as well as collaboratively in a team setting; and
  • Experience working with individuals from diverse backgrounds and communities to bring them together to build on common goals.

DIVERSITY AND NON-DISCRIMINATION POLICY:

Catholic Migration Services values workplace diversity and welcomes applicants and employees of allbackgrounds. CMS strives to create a positive, supportive, and inclusive work environment for all staff.CMS makes all employment decisions without regard to any applicant’s or employee’s protected characteristics, including their race, religion, color, national origin, immigration status, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, arrest conviction record, or marital status.

SALARY AND BENEFITS

Salary is on a union scale based on years of experience. The salary range for an organizer with two to three years of experience is $50,719.50 to $51,759.90. CMS offers a very competitive benefits package that includes medical, dental and vision insurance coverage, transit benefits, Flexible Spending Account (FSA) and a 403(b) retirement plan including employer contribution. We offer generous leave policies,including four weeks paid vacation, four paid personal days, fourteen paid holidays and the week off between Christmas and New Year’s Days, inclusive.

UNION REPRESENTATION

This is a bargaining unit position represented for collective bargaining purposes by the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, UAW, Local 2325.

APPLICATION INSTRUCTIONS:

Applications will be accepted immediately and will be considered on a rolling basis. Interested applicants should send a cover letter, resume, and a list of three professional references to: Magdalena Barbosa, at mbarbosa@catholicmigration.org. Please include “Community Organizer Application” in the subject line.


Download this job announcement as a PDF: Tenant Organizer, Housing