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Nelly’s Story

Nelly with ITAP coordinator and housing attorney Joshua Butnick.

Nelly’s experience with CMS began when her and her neighbors believed they were being overcharged for their rent stabilized apartments in Jamaica, Queens. They filed a complaint with the state housing agency. After a complicated administrative process, Nelly and her neighbors wound up facing eviction, even though they always paid their rent in full and on time.

CMS took her and two other tenants’ cases. After a trial in housing court, the judge dismissed the cases, determining that, since Nelly and the other tenants never defaulted on their rent, the landlord had no grounds for eviction.

Nelly experienced a new sense of empowerment since working with CMS, testifying for herself in court. While in court, in front of her landlord or immigration officials, she declared: “I am not afraid anymore, I feel positive and optimistic now.”

Nelly did not realize she had been eligible to apply for citizenship for at least 15 years until she came to CMS with her housing issue. With the help of CMS’ immigration staff, she became a U.S. citizen.

Nelly is a perfect example of how CMS reaches communities in need. When an elderly woman in her building with a broken elevator fell down the stairs, Nelly encouraged her neighbor to reach out to CMS and take action about this dangerous condition.

For Nelly, Catholic Migration Services is a place of support and empowerment for new immigrants. To her, CMS offered more than relief from a housing problem she faced and assistance applying for U.S. citizenship–it was also an empowering educational resource. “Before, I felt as if I was so small, that I wasn’t anyone,” Nelly said. “The office has taught me that I have rights, I can speak up and protest so that I am not abused. They have taught me to defend my rights and also the rights of others.”

“Thank God for CMO [now CMS] who works hard for everybody in New York,” she said, “I don’t have words to explain how thankful I am for the office.”