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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

Rockwood Music Hall Workers Sue Owner for Unpaid Wages

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, November 16, 2023

Employees of Rockwood Music Hall, located in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, are suing the venue’s owner, Kenneth Rockwood, for unpaid wages.  The workers state in their complaint that on payday they were often left empty-handed.  Mr. Rockwood often paid them only a portion of their wages or nothing at all.

Rockwood Music Hall, a well-known venue, has featured performances by many artists, including Sara Bareilles, Sting, Norah Jones, Lady Gaga.  The workers, porters who have worked at the performance space since 2011, state that the problem began in 2022, several months before Rockwood Music Hall’s corporate entity, Kenrock Enterprises, filed for bankruptcy and a #PreserveRockwood fundraising campaign was launched.  By then, Mr. Rockwood already owed the workers a significant amount of money for unpaid wages and for years of unpaid overtime.  Yet, Mr. Rockwood did not identify the workers as creditors in bankruptcy filings and did not direct any of the fundraising proceeds toward making them whole.

Meanwhile, in May 2023, Mr. Rockwood opened a new venue, also named Rockwood Music Hall, which is located in Boston.

“It affects us at the end of every week. We need the money to pay gas, electricity, and especially the rent. We cannot plan for anything,” said Roman Moreno Martinez.

“When I found out that he had money to open a new club in Boston but not to pay the workers, it offended me. It showed a lack of respect.  It wasn’t right,” added Felipe Vargas.

“After the workers came to our office with concerns about their unpaid wages, they realized that Mr. Rockwood had also failed to pay them overtime premiums, despite the fact that they nearly always worked over 40 hours per week,” said Alice Davis, their attorney.

The lawsuit, Moreno Martinez, et al. v. Rockwood, S.D.N.Y. (23-cv-10058) was filed November 15, 2023, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.  The suit alleges multiple violations under the Federal Labor Standards Act and New York Labor Law.

The lawsuit was filed on the workers’ behalf by attorneys at Catholic Migration Services.  The Workers’ Rights Program offers advice and representation to low-wage workers on issues such as wage theft and workplace discrimination.

# # #


About Catholic Migration Services: For over 50 years, Catholic Migration Services, a not-for-profit legal services provider affiliated with Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens, has been providing quality legal services to low-income individuals in New York City in the areas of immigration, housing, and employment. For more information, please visit www.catholicmigration.org and connect with us on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), and Instagram @CMSBQ.

 

PRESS MENTION: In Queens, Strangers Become Neighbors

Sam Ida stands with his daughter, Laila, in front of the building where their family has lived for more than a decade. Multiple rent increases over the last few years raised concerns for Mr. Ida and motivated him to help start a tenant association. (Photo: Tom Sibley for The New York Times)

Rent increases in a building in Sunnyside encouraged tenants to band together. Now they know one another’s names and help keep an eye on building management.

November 6, 2023
By D.W. Gibson

It wasn’t a dramatic rent increase. “Just $35.01,” said Sam Ida, who received a letter informing him of the change.

The notice went to everyone in his building in Queens because the increase was spurred by what’s known as a major capital improvement, or M.C.I. If a landlord makes an improvement to a building that benefits all tenants, some of those costs can be passed on to the tenants through a rent increase, which can remain in effect for up to 30 years. In the case of Mr. Ida’s building, the elevator had been renovated.

He didn’t fear paying the extra $35.01 each month — he and his wife, Aimee Nazario Ida, both work and could cover the increase. What he found unnerving was the hunch that this might not be his last M.C.I. notification.

It wasn’t.

The first had come just months before the pandemic, the second arrived after the rental market recovered. This time it was an increase of $39.12 to cover work on the building’s facade.

Mr. Ida’s family had moved into the rent-stabilized apartment 11 years earlier. His daughter, Laila, was only 2 and his son, Voltron, wasn’t yet born. But he and Ms. Ida, whom he met when they were students at the Pratt Institute, were already thinking long-term. They liked that there was an elementary school across the street, parks nearby and tree-lined sidewalks all around. “It’s a nice area for families,” Mr. Ida recalled thinking.

The neighborhood felt perfect, even if the 55-unit, brick building didn’t. “It’s old, prewar,” he said, “and not that great of a building.”

There was the time water came pouring through the ceiling. When Mr. Ida ran upstairs to knock on the door of the apartment above his, he discovered that his neighbor also had water coming through the ceiling. Together they ran up to the next floor and helped yet another neighbor locate a bathtub leak. “But we never considered these kinds of things a big deal,” he said. “We just took everything in stride.”

While Mr. Ida said the building’s super would address major issues like water cascading through multiple units, smaller things festered — cockroaches and mice, missing window guards and peeling paint. Mr. Ida, who grew up the son of a carpenter, said, “To be honest, when something’s fairly minor, I just fix it myself.”

Mr. Ida learned to looked past the challenges of the building because of the neighborhood — and the spaciousness of his family’s two-bedroom. “In New York,” he said, “it’s the biggest place I’ve ever lived.”

The apartment has provided plenty of room for his two children to grow over the years. They’re 9 and 13 now and the apartment is, with all its imperfections, the family’s home — affordable and suited to their priorities.

Occupation: Children’s book illustrator, teacher and sign maker

On making books: Mr. Ida has designed over 35 children’s books, specializing in pop-up books. “It’s a really small world,” he said. “There were only 30 or so of us when I started.” Today, he says, more artists are learning pop-up techniques. “They make single issues or very small runs of pop-up artist books, rather than publishing for the mass market.”

On hearing from readers: “Occasionally, I still get heartfelt letters or messages from people who bought my books a long time ago or found them at a thrift store,” Mr. Ida said. “There is a lot I love about making pop-up books. As an art form, it holds a great deal of untapped potential. The books can connect on a deep level with some people.”

When the multiple M.C.I. increases came along, it rattled Mr. Ida. If the increases continued, he thought, they could accumulate beyond his family’s budget, forcing a move — not just from the apartment but from their routines, schools, and beloved Sunnyside.

After the second notification arrived, he heard others start to grumble. “Every time I walked out the door,” he said, “I’d walk into a conversation about this. I think if it was just me, I wouldn’t have done anything about it, but because everyone was mobilized, we had to do something to disincentivize them from doing this perpetually.”

In March, Mr. Ida saw a flier at his local library: Catholic Migration Services, which provides legal services to immigrants, was holding a workshop focused on how to form a tenants’ association. “I told the guys who are always complaining in front of the building that we should go to the class and try to start an association,” he said. “At that workshop we really got organized and decided on a course of action, believing that we had a pretty good chance to — if not get the second increase canceled — at least get it reduced.”

Mr. Ida distributed fliers throughout the building for a first meeting. At the workshop he learned that getting a third of all tenants to attend would be a success. “For that first meeting,” he recalled, “half the building showed up.”

The association was advised by its legal counsel to request a copy of the application that had been submitted by the building’s owner. When Mr. Ida and other members of the association reviewed the materials, they noticed that certain figures provided in the paperwork did not match figures in copies of receipts that were included. “The application seemed a little thrown together,” he said. “It seemed like they weren’t really expecting anyone to take a closer look at it.”

At the same time, Mr. Ida and his neighbors decided to stop living with all the needed repairs they had learned to ignore or fix themselves: broken light fixtures, warped floors, walls crumbling from previous water leaks. “We made a list of all the violations in the building and flooded 311 with complaints related to them,” he said. According to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the building has had 113 violations, 27 of which remain open.

With the first M.C.I. increase already implemented, the association petitioned for the second to be delayed and the request was granted. “We put the brakes on the increase and let them know we were appealing it,” Mr. Ida said. “In that process if you respond as an association, you have a much better chance of getting a better result than as an individual.”

While the association awaits an outcome regarding the second increase, Mr. Ida said the organizing has already had an effect. “Since we formed the association,” he said, “the management has been better about getting things fixed.” What’s more, the association has changed the culture of the building. “People I had only known in passing,” he said, “I finally got to know their names.”

Representatives at MCP Property Management, which manages the building, did not respond to multiple requests for a comment.

Despite the fact that so many people have lived in the building for so long, retiring there and living on a fixed income, it wasn’t until the association was formed that they started to get to know one another.

The tenants maintain an active chat group, they are aware of one another’s issues and they help their neighbors out — people store packages for each other so they aren’t stolen anymore, they keep spare keys for each other and help out with dog walks. A collection of people who shared a building have become, in the truest sense, neighbors.

“Overall, it’s made us more connected to each other. We’re working to improve the building and have a voice in that process. I feel like even if we lose on the second M.C.I., we have to push back or the people who own the building will just keep wanting more and more.”

Mr. Ida’s penchant for organizing has spilled into other areas of his life. He’s been teaching at New York University since 2014 but only recently got involved in the labor union. “After we formed the tenant association,” he said, “it inspired me to get more involved and I went to a union meeting for the first time. I’m not normally someone who would really get involved in these things, but it’s good to know you’re not alone in whatever your struggles are.”


Read the original article in The New York Times: In Queens, Strangers Become Neighbors

PRESS MENTION: Inquilinos demandan a casero: por estar ocho meses sin gas y por acoso

Screenshot of news coverage from NY1 Noticias.

Screenshot of news coverage via NY1 Noticias.

September 15, 2023
By NY1 Noticias

Antonio Flores dice que por años ha padecido acoso de parte del casero donde vive.

Y al igual que él, otras 5 familias mexicanas que viven en el edificio ubicado en el 28-18 de la Avenida 38th, en Long Island City, Queens, han demandado ante la corte de vivienda al propietario del inmueble por haberlos dejado sin gas durante 8 meses.

Y también aseguran, porque los vigilan cada paso que dan.

“El problema es que tenemos mucho acoso por un hombre que contrató el dueño, nos acosaba mucho, nos investigaba, a qué hora salíamos de la casa, sacaba fotos”, dijo Antonio Flores, inquilino.

Poco antes de la audiencia ante el juez, todos ellos acompañados de activistas protestaron frente a la corte, en espera que sus voces y reclamos sea escuchados y fallen a su favor.

Martín Hernández, quien también es inquilino, ya le demandó hace 10 anos por agresión física y ganó. Sin embargo, el acoso no ha parado, asegura.

“Eso fue a parar hasta la corte obviamente y se le pusieron cargos al super, y desafortunadamente al dueño no se le pudieron poner cargos por el poder que tiene y hasta la fecha sigue acosándome, esto no termina”, dijo Hernández.

Antonia Martínez no se queda atrás, pues dice que también ha sido blanco de injurias y hasta de amenazas.

“El dueño y sus trabajadores nos han hecho discriminación, nos amenazan con que si no tenemos los documentos legales nos van a intimidar diciendo que inmigración anda cogiendo a la gente sin documentos”, dijo Antonia.“El dueño y sus trabajadores nos han hecho discriminación, nos amenazan con que si no tenemos los documentos legales nos van a intimidar diciendo que inmigración anda cogiendo a la gente sin documentos”, dijo Antonia.

Viven constantemente con miedo, dicen los inquilinos.

“Nuestros hijos también tienen miedo de sus trabajadores y del dueño porque no se sienten libre de vivir en el departamento, y es muy estresante”, agregó Antonia.

Como estresante es la permanente vigilancia…

“Instaló cámaras, de hecho nos mandó fotos que cuando salimos, cuando botamos basura, a la hora que llegamos del trabajo”, dijo Hernández.

La demanda también exige la reparación por los meses sin gas en sus apartamentos.

“Los inquilinos están pidiendo una reducción de renta de la cuenta que se debe ahora, por la huelga por no tener gras por 8 meses, y también una reducción en la renta del futuro para poder quedarse en su hogar”, dijo Amy Collado, de Servicios Católicos de Migración.

Enviamos un correo al propietario, pero hasta el cierre de este reportaje no obtuvimos respuesta.


See the original news coverage via NY1 Noticias (en español): Inquilinos demandan a casero: por estar ocho meses sin gas y por acoso