The team, which will have two attorneys and three paralegals, plans to provide legal support for public housing matters, including for tenants who have already converted—or are in the process of converting—to new funding models.
The Legal Aid Society, which offers legal services in areas including juvenile justice, immigration and homelessness prevention, is adding a new unit dedicated to New York City Housing Authority tenants, starting this week.
Lucy Newman, a staff attorney with the organization’s Civil Law Reform Unit, will be the supervising attorney for the new Public Housing Unit.
The team, which will have two attorneys and three paralegals, plans to provide legal support in public housing matters, including for tenants whose developments have already converted—or are in the process of converting—to either the Permanent Affordability Commitment Together (PACT) program or Preservation Trust.
Both funding plans involve moving NYCHA units from traditional Section 9 public housing to a federally-funded Project Based Section 8 program—and in the case of PACT, to new management.
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“There is a great need to be able to provide education and support to those communities who are facing those questions and the prospect of transferring to Section 8,” said Newman. “We have a big list of things to do.”
Setting up a designated email for the unit and creating a space on Legal Aid’s website are among the first tasks on that list. Her team also plans to work on engagement efforts to make sure residents are aware of the services being offered.
NYCHA residents are facing challenges that are not unique to public housing, Newman said. These include loss of employment, barriers to accessing public benefits, accumulation of rent arrears, poor living conditions, and involvement with the criminal justice system.
The Legal Aid Society has initiatives and teams that focus on the practice areas of civil defense, criminal defense and juvenile rights. Newman said oftentimes these areas overlap. With the new unit, the nonprofit can help NYCHA tenants more “efficiently and effectively,” Newman said.
Though the Public Housing Unit is new, Legal Aid’s work with NYCHA residents is not. From speaking out at City Council hearings to hosting community events, Newman said the Legal Aid Society has been defending the rights of public housing residents for decades.
The organization, which has offices in every borough, currently offers services within its various housing defense units. Teams work with NYCHA residents to fight for apartment repairs, through so-called “HP” actions in housing court.
Newman said Legal Aid has also been at the forefront of multiple progressive movements, including leading a call to former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration to relieve NYCHA from having to fund the NYPD’s policing of its developments.
Legal Aid has also been successful in winning rent credits for tenants, including residents who still had power outages weeks after Hurricane Sandy landed in the city.
Newman described her approach as “housing first,” meaning that no matter what challenges a resident faces, she fights to make sure they have a roof over their heads.
The Public Housing Unit will join another NYCHA-dedicated legal services outfit in the city, the Public Housing Justice Project at New York Legal Assistance Group.
Newman wants NYCHA residents to know that the Legal Aid Society is there to defend and protect their rights, and has experts who are ready to address any matters related to their housing situation.
“It all comes from the fact that NYCHA really is the most valuable, stable, affordable source of housing in New York City for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers,” she said. “And it’s such a valuable source of housing to protect that it deserves its own [unit].”
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