Tuesday, August 30, 2016


   Three years ago just 1 in 100 tenants in housing court had representation. Today, more than 1 in 4 have representation

Office of Civil Justice report shows number of tenants in eviction proceedings with legal representation in court has increased to 27 percent from 1 percent in 2013

City funding for free or low-cost legal assistance will exceed $100 million in Fiscal Year 2017

    Mayor Bill de Blasio today released the findings of the Office of Civil Justice’s first annual report, which show that 27 percent of tenants in Housing Court for eviction proceedings have legal representation – up from 1 percent in 2013. As a result of annual investments totaling over $100 million in civil legal services of all types under Mayor de Blasio, evictions have fallen 24 percent in the last two years according to the report.

The report details the various legal needs common among low-income New Yorkers, and the effect of providing free and low-cost legal services to meet those needs, with a special focus on legal services for tenants facing evictions, harassment and other housing-related problems.

“As we face one of the most serious affordable housing crises in our city’s history, we have made an unprecedented commitment to provide legal assistance for low-income New Yorkers, and we are beginning to see the results of these efforts,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “The Office of Civil Justice’s first annual report documents the progress we have made in providing New Yorkers in need with access to quality legal representation, particularly to prevent evictions and harassment by unscrupulous landlords.” 
“The New York City Council is committed to ensuring better access to justice in civil legal matters for our residents,” said Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “Our creation of the Office of Civil Justice was an important first step and this initial report is a promising indication that the work we’re doing is making a difference for our most vulnerable citizens. We look forward to continuing to collaborate with the Office and the administration as we plan for even more robust access to justice for low-income New Yorkers, and we remain committed to continuing to bring equity and justice to New Yorkers in every borough. I would like to thank Council Members Mark Levine and Vanessa Gibson for their leadership on this issue.”

“Under Mayor de Blasio’s administration, New York City has become a national leader in the provision of legal services for low-income families and individuals,” said Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks. “Based at the Human Resources Administration, the Office of Civil Justice offers critical assistance that can truly make a difference in the lives of tens of thousands of New Yorkers in need who otherwise would not be able to afford legal representation. This report provides a clear picture of who those New Yorkers are and what we need to do to support them.” 

For Fiscal Year 2017, City funding for legal services addressing the needs of low-income New Yorkers will total $110 million; including $82 million from mayoral initiatives, and nearly $28 million from City Council discretionary funds. Through the Human Resource Administration’s (HRA) Tenant Support Unit (TSU), mayoral funding for legal services for tenants facing eviction or harassment has increased to approximately $62 million, 10 times the investment made by the previous administration. The TSU proactively engages with New Yorkers through door-to-door outreach, connecting them with vital services and case managing their issues to resolution.

During FY17, this additional investment is expected to provide housing-related legal services to 33,000 low-income households, including a total of 113,000 New Yorkers. As these expanded tenant legal services – including anti-eviction and anti-harassment legal programs funded through HRA – are being fully-implemented, the increase in funding over the last two years is already yielding positive results. In 2015, there were 21,988 marshals’ evictions, compared to 26,857 in 2014 and 28,849 in 2013 – a significant two-year decline of 24 percent.

Other key findings of the report are:

  • More than half of the legal representation for tenants who appear in Housing Court for eviction cases is provided by non-profit legal services organizations serving low income New Yorkers.
  • The average anti-eviction legal service client is 43 years old and resides in a household of three.
  • 99 percent of landlords in eviction proceedings in court have legal representation.

See a copy of the report here.

“New York City has made an investment in civil legal services larger than any other municipality, and this first Annual Report is the Administration’s latest step towards ensuring that low-income New Yorkers have access to a fair and equitable civil justice system” said Jordan Dressler, Civil Justice Coordinator. “The findings in this Report will establish a solid foundation for discussions about the future of civil legal assistance for low-income people in New York City.”

Pursuant to legislation sponsored by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Council Member Mark Levine, the Office of Civil Justice (OCJ) was formally created in June 2015 when Mayor de Blasio signed Local Law 61 into law and placed the office under HRA, the agency in charge of addressing poverty, income inequality and reducing homelessness. Its main focus is to provide coordination, planning, and oversight of city resources and programs to meet the civil legal needs of low-income New Yorkers.

OCJ is required to prepare an annual report and to develop a five-year plan based on the information provided in these reports. In addition, it makes budget recommendations on funding, and provides outreach and education about the legal services programs.

As part of its effort to consolidate and enhance civil legal services in New York City, the Administration has also increased mayoral funding in the Fiscal Year 2017 adopted budget for legal assistance for low-income immigrant New Yorkers, including: $7.9 million for legal services and community outreach as part of the ActionNYC program; and $8.5 million in funding for the Immigrant Opportunity Initiative legal services programs.

“Given the lack of affordable, quality housing opportunities in the city, many bad-acting landlords continue to take advantage of our City’s most vulnerable residents. This is why, as Chair of the Committee on Housing and Buildings, we’ve held numerous hearings and passed a number of bills aimed at helping keep people in their homes, and preventing illegal, unlawful activities aimed at pressuring them out. I’m pleased that the administration, and the council, is continuing its efforts to protect those who need it most,” said Council Member Jumaane D. WilliamsChair of the Housing and Buildings Committee.

"Without representation, tenants facing eviction find themselves on an uneven playing field that far too often leaves them without a place to live," said State Senator Adriano Espaillat. "This report shows that we are starting to move in the right direction, providing more tenants with the legal aid they need to keep their homes. I commend Mayor de Blasio for his commitment to evening the playing field for our city's tenants in housing court."

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