HOUSING DEPARTMENT YIELDS TO LEGAL TEMP-TATION

Print More

It’s the one thing you’d never expect to see in Housing Court: temps. But several weeks ago, four new attorneys began working part-time for the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), the agency charged with enforcing the city’s housing code.

Unlike most HPD employees, these latest hires were not brought on as staff, or even as per diem civil servants. Instead, they were hired for a three month stint, three mornings a week, as temps.

HPD’s staff attorneys, who have seen their ranks dwindle from 46 in 1994 to 18 this year, take a dim view of the new hires. They claim the temps are neither well-trained nor experienced enough to be much good at representing tenants in the chaotic, overcrowded Housing Court.

“Seasonal attorneys–whoever heard of this?” asked Gloria Johnson, president of the Civil Service Bar Association, which is the lawyers’ union. “Clearly we don’t like it.” Johnson charged that the city’s move “shows an attitude towards tenants” and a “lack of concern” for remedying housing violations. No new attorneys have been hired in at least five years, according to union officials.

Adding insult to injury, HPD management asked its lawyers to train the temps, who were thrown into court two weeks ago with virtually no supervision. The attorneys’ union takes the position that staff isn’t required to train people who aren’t city employees. The attorneys have also decided that if the housing agency insists on the training, their union will file a grievance. “We’re taking the position that we don’t have to train independent contractors,” said Johnson.

Besides, say staffers, they’re too overworked to train anyone. Winter is the litigation bureau’s busiest season, when the attorneys scramble to assist tenants with heat and hot water complaints. “They put them in there in the middle of heating season; who has time to train them?” asked one senior attorney. “They’re supposed to ease the burden and instead they’re adding to it.”

HPD officials did not respond to requests for comment