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No Tenant Stands Alone: Mayor de Blasio Announces $1M Funding Boost for Door-To-Door Outreach Connecting Tenants to Free Legal Representation

October 17, 2017

Mayor's Tenant Support Unit has already helped 14,000 New Yorkers fight harassment and eviction, secure repairs

NEW YORK—Mayor Bill de Blasio today announced that his Tenant Support Unit has resolved 4,500 cases, helping more than 14,000 tenants in fast changing neighborhoods stay in their homes by getting health and safety code violations corrected and connecting tenants facing eviction and harassment to legal services groups.

TSU specialists proactively go door-to-door informing tenants of their rights, documenting and case managing tenant issues related to harassment, repairs, and eviction, and making referrals to legal support whenever necessary. 

The Mayor is also announcing that TSU is allocating $1 million to build a dedicated 15-person TSU team to conduct outreach in nine more neighborhoods to low-income tenants facing eviction in housing court, to notify them of their right to free legal representation under a new City law that provides universal access to legal representation. Click here for more information about the law. The funds will also go to launch a multilingual paid ad campaign in these neighborhoods to ensure tenants are aware of their new right.

The neighborhoods, which cover 10 zip codes, are Bushwick, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights, Harlem, Jamaica, Tremont, Williamsbridge, Mariners Harbor, and Port Richmond.

The TSU team will work directly with the City’s Human Resource Administration’s Office of Civil Justice to direct data-driven outreach to tenants who are facing eviction cases in court to notify them of their access to free legal services in court.

“We want to keep tenants in their homes. Rather than waiting for New Yorkers to reach a crisis or call 311, the Tenant Support Unit is knocking on doors in New York’s most rapidly changing neighborhoods to make sure tenants are aware of their legal rights and get the services they need. Make no mistake about it, as we build and protect 200,000 affordable homes across this city, we are also confronting landlords who ignore their duty to provide safe homes,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

 “No tenant should lose their home because they didn’t know their rights or didn’t have legal assistance. With the enactment of the universal access to counsel law, New York City has set a new standard as the national leader in access to justice for tenants in need,” said Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks.  

“The Office of Civil Justice is proud to work with our legal service providers and with the TSU to ensure that tenants facing eviction know their rights and do not stand alone in Housing Court,” said Jordan Dressler, HRA’s Civil Justice Coordinator.

“The Tenant Support Unit is the City making house calls,” said Regina Schwartz, Director of the Mayor’s Public Engagement Unit. “Bringing the City to the door of hundreds of thousands of tenants ensures New Yorkers are directly connected to resources that help them stay in their homes and thrive in the communities they love. We are thrilled to continue our partnerships with the HRA and legal service providers to expand this effort to additional neighborhoods.”

“The Tenant Support Unit is an important tool in our efforts to end the cycle of eviction and homelessness. This is more than a $1 million investment in free legal services; it's an investment in our communities, our families, and our children. I commend Mayor de Blasio for his leadership and his commitment to safe and affordable housing for all New Yorkers,” Council Member Vanessa L. Gibson said.

“To do its job, sometimes government has to come to New Yorkers, instead of the other way around,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “The work of the Tenant Support Unit is an example of that approach. Rent regulation, like any complex system, is rife with pitfalls for tenants and affordable apartments to slip through the cracks. Reaching out proactively, and connecting tenants directly to legal services providers when necessary, helps us preserve more apartments and ensure tenants get the full benefit of the laws that ought to be protecting them.”

State Senator Gustavo Rivera said “No tenant in New York City should lose their home because they cannot access affordable and adequate legal representation,” said State Senator Gustavo Rivera. “The comprehensive services that the Tenant Support Unit has offered at my office have helped many of my constituents avoid unnecessary evictions and get the repairs they need. I look forward to continue working with the Tenant Support Unit as they expand their services and thank Mayor de Blasio for proactively working to raise awareness of the critical legal services our City continues to offer in an effort to keep more New Yorkers in their homes.”

“For thousands of tenants, free legal representation has meant the all-important difference between staying in their apartments and losing access to safe and affordable housing,” said Assembly Member Steven Cymbrowitz, Chair of Housing Committee. "Increased funding will mean that even more people will be able to benefit, which has a stabilizing influence on our families and communities.”

“The Tenant Support Unit connects New York City tenants with vital services to help them stay in their homes, including free legal services,” said Raun Rasmussen, Executive Director of Legal Services NYC. “This new team of TSU specialists will help ensure that New York City families get the legal help that they need to prevent their evictions.”

The Tenant Support Unit is part of a multi-pronged approach Mayor de Blasio has implemented to fight displacement. It includes a ten-fold increase in free legal services for tenants ­– totaling $62 million – that will be fully implemented this year. In addition, since 2014, the administration has locked in more than 52,000 apartments into long-term affordability agreements that help low-income families stay in their homes for decades to come and has financed the construction of more than 25,000 new affordable homes. 

Prior to this administration, very few tenants had legal representation in Housing Court, estimated at just 1% in 2013 by state court officials. This resulted in high incidences of evictions and unchecked tenant harassment. To help close the gap, the Administration dramatically increased the availability of City-funded legal services for low-income tenants, increasing funding for legal assistance for tenants facing eviction and harassment from $6 million in 2013.

The program successfully increased tenant representation in Housing Court to 27% in 2016, and has provided more than 50,000 households with legal services since 2014. At the same time, residential evictions by marshals declined by 24 percent, allowing 40,000 people to remain in their homes during 2015 and 2016.

Last February and to compliment the bill that was eventually signed into law, the Administration agreed to more than double this financial support, dedicating an additional $93 million at full implementation for a program to provide access to legal representation to all low-income tenants facing eviction proceedings in Housing Court earning up to 200% of the federal poverty line and brief legal assistance for all tenants facing eviction in court whose income is above that level.  In total and once the program is fully implemented, the City will spend $155 million annually to cover the costs of the initiative. Beginning this month, the program also started providing legal services to NYCHA tenants in administrative proceedings to terminate their tenancy. There are approximately 3,200 cases that go through NYCHA administrative hearings annually.

The program will serve 400,000 tenants when it is fully implemented in five years.

Modeled after the outreach program for Pre-K for All that successfully enrolled tens of thousands of children in free, full-day Pre-K, the Tenant Support Unit reaches New Yorkers directly. Since it launched in July 2015, specialists from the unit have knocked on more than 180,000 doors and made more than 72,000 phone calls to tenants, identifying 6,828 cases that needed help. Of the total 4,500 cases have been resolved so far, and agencies and legal service providers are addressing the remainder. 

Key efforts of the Tenant Support Unit:

  • Know Your Rights: Specialists are trained to educate tenants about their fundamental rights in multiple languages, ensuring tenants are not intimidated or deceived into accepting a buyout offer or illegal surcharges on their legal rent.
  • Securing Repairs: Specialists help tenants document complaints about inadequate heat or hot water, infestations and mold, and work directly with HPD's Division of Code Enforcement to secure necessary repairs.
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