Five Things I Learned From Housing Court Answers

If you’ve been to Housing Court, Housing Court Answers is a valuable resource. The organization helps people without lawyers through their information tables in the courts, on their hotline, and through their Web site. Each year, they host an educational, all-day conference for the public and for tenant attorneys. This year’s was held May 20 at the Cardozo School of Law in Manhattan, with the theme “Understanding and Preventing Displacement.” 

I learned five key things.

1. Hope is in the air. Applause broke out throughout the day when speakers like Jessica Attie, special counsel for civil rights in the New York State Attorney General’s office, mentioned the recent arrest of abusive landlord Steve Croman. This news, along with the 18-percent drop in evictions in 2015 and the city allocating $46 million for tenant legal services in the last two years, lent the discussions a sense of optimism.

2. The right to counsel for tenants could become reality. City Councilmember Vanessa Gibson of the Bronx said in her keynote speech that the path to low-income tenants receiving free representation in Housing Court is making great progress: Annual city funding for tenant attorneys is now over $60 million, a tenfold increase since 2014. Movements like the Right to Counsel NYC Coalition have demonstrated that the city would save more than $500 million a year by keeping families out of homeless shelters and by preserving affordable housing. “The right to counsel is going to be a huge, huge deal,” one panelist said.

3. Gentrification is affecting all of us. “The entire constituency of my neighborhood has changed,” said Esteban Giron, an organizer and tenant advocate with the Crown Heights Tenant Union. Cea Weaver, assistant director of organizing and policy at the Urban Homesteading Alliance Board, described how in a gentrifying neighborhood, “We see late and early-morning construction; we see horrendous living conditions for low-income tenants and brand-new, stainless-steel appliances for new tenants.” “When the Bronx was burning, we were there,” said Randy Dillard, a tenant leader for Community Action for Safe Apartments, who described how he’s been in the Bronx since he had to sweep up crack pipes from the sidewalks. “And you want to move in and displace us? I’m here to fight for my sons and my grandkids.”

4. Try to fight MCI increases. Major-capital-improvement increases are a major way that landlords are able to raise rent on rent-stabilized tenants. But an afternoon session hosted by the Legal Aid Society featured discussion on how tenants could fight such increases and other building-wide problems. “MCIs are forcing people to accept repairs they don’t ask for and don’t necessarily want,” said Edmund Witter of the Legal Aid Society and Bronx Tenants Rights Campaign. The best defense against MCIs, panelists said, is proving that the work completed was shoddy. The way to prove this? Have an expert in the repair examine the work. 

5. There are many resources for tenants. From campaigns against preferential rent and eviction bonuses, to rallying cries for a rent rollback and the right to counsel, the movement to fight evictions, displacement, and gentrification is showing that no one is alone in their battles. Heading to Housing Court soon? Housing Court Answers provides the Navigator Program to help unrepresented tenants file answers and understanding the court system. Want to organize tenants in your building, but afraid you aren’t powerful or persuasive enough to get everyone unified? Metropolitan Council on Housing and local organizations like the Crown Heights Tenants Union ensure you won’t need to go it alone.

 

Housing Court Answers’ Web site is http://cwtfhc.org.