May 6, 2020
The NYC Right to Counsel Union Taskforce represents members of Legal Services Staff Association (NOLSW/UAW 2320), the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys (UAW 2325), the National Organization of Legal Services Workers (UAW 2320), and SEIU1199. We are a coalition of unions representing nonprofit legal services workers in New York City, and we issue the below guiding principles for how New York City’s Right to Counsel program should be funded and implemented.
Guiding Principles for How Right to Counsel Should be Funded & Implemented
- All housing work funded by HRA should be fully funded at the actual cost of implementing the program, rather than the current level of funding at approximately 50% of the true cost.
- The City should fund comprehensive services – not just attorneys, but also paralegals, benefits support staff to secure public assistance rent grants, social workers, interpreters, process servers, organizers, and more.
- In addition to funding legal services organizations, the City must pass Int. 1529 and fund community organizations that center around tenant organizing, as a critical part of the fight against tenant harassment and displacement.
- The City should provide sufficient funding for the entire world of a tenant’s housing needs – not just non-payment and holdover cases, but also repairs, harassment, DHCR overcharges, appeals, Article 78s, etc. – and pass Int. 1104 to expand Right to Counsel.
- The City should provide adequate funding so that all advocates’ caseloads are low enough to allow them to fully investigate each case and fully represent each client, not just do the minimum necessary to get the case resolved.
- The City and/or providers should work together to establish a system for directing tenants with prior cases to the providers who represented them last time, and directing tenants in buildings with existing or prior representation to those providers. For example, screen in the clerk’s office when the first court date is assigned, or allow tenants to elect to work with their former provider if they so wish.
- The City should support the creation of a database for all providers to share information about the various buildings we work in to give information to providers on rent reduction orders, past harassment and deregulations, etc., in order to better represent tenants.
- The City and State should provide access to case filing data to assist providers in making hiring, policy, and staffing decisions.
- The bidding process for UAC contracts should not be a race to the bottom pitting providers against each other, but rather an effort to fund high quality representation for tenants.
- The City should promptly register contracts and pay providers timely.
- HRA should streamline and reduce its reporting requirements on providers so as to reduce the crippling administrative burden on organizations.
- The City should refuse to contract with any employer who refuses to recognize their staff’s democratic decision to form a union.
- The City, State, HRA, and providers must take an active role in advocating for courts that are safe, fair, and respectful of all litigants. This includes changing the culture of the court system so that tenant advocates are not penalized for and discouraged from assertively litigating claims on behalf of tenants, ensuring that tenants have representation before negotiating with opposing counsel and are not pressured into signing stipulations without representation, holding attorneys and court staff accountable for acts of bias or other inappropriate conduct, and ensuring that clients can come to court without fear of exposure to Immigration and Customs Enforcement or other harm.
- The City and State must ensure that tenants have respectful and confidential spaces in housing court to meet with their provider.
- The City should support the creation of a pipeline project to promote housing court representation to law students, including, for example, housing court clinics in law schools.
- The City should fund adequate training and supervision for staff to ensure that staff can provide quality services to tenants.
- The City should support the retention of skilled and experienced staff, so that tenants are not being represented solely or primarily by new and inexperienced staff, and ensure that legal services staff have adequate professional development to build their litigation skills and make this an attractive profession where staff will stay and develop expertise.