In a TalkPoverty blog posted last year, then New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman announced the introduction of Poverty Justice Solutions (PJS), a new initiative to bring more lawyers into New York City’s housing courts to represent low-income tenants who would otherwise go unrepresented.
Judge Lippman describes the devastating impact of eviction on the stability and well-being of families, who don’t just face homelessness, but a host of other problems, including disrupted educations for children, difficulty in maintaining employment, depression and other health issues.
“Despite the grave potential consequences, nine out of ten low-income New Yorkers who go to Housing Court do so without the benefit of a lawyer,” writes Lippman. “It is difficult to navigate the courts without assistance. Filling out the necessary paperwork, requesting repairs, and negotiating with a landlord’s attorney are no simple matters, especially when you are facing the threat of losing your home.”
Poverty Justice Solutions, the result of a partnership between Robin Hood, the New York City Human Resources Administration, and the Center for Court Innovation, was created so that fewer New Yorkers will find themselves alone in housing court. Like other initiatives that have been introduced by the court system in recent years, Poverty Justice Solutions taps the skills and commitment of recent law school graduates, in this case by offering graduates two-year fellowships with civil legal service providers in New York.
NYLAG is fortunate to have had four PJS Fellows join the agency’s Tenants’ Rights staff last fall: Khushbu Patel; Julia Lake; Michael Connors; and Joseph Schofield. They are members of the inaugural class of Fellows, 20 in all, now working at a number of legal services agencies across the city. Each NYLAG Fellow has the goal of assisting 150 people per year with matters including defending against eviction proceedings, obtaining and preserving rent subsidies, bringing repair cases, and representing clients at administrative hearings. NYLAG’s housing attorneys work in dozens of locations, including offices located within the Housing Courts in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens, and at community-based organizations throughout those boroughs. Patel, Lake and Schofield all work on the Brooklyn team and Connors works in Queens.
“NYLAG’s Poverty Justice Solutions Fellows have really enhanced the work the Tenants’ Rights team is able to do. We have greatly benefited from our participation in the inaugural class of Fellows,” said Ann Dibble, Director of the Tenants’ Rights Unit. “The innovative PJS model resulted in an immediate positive impact on people at risk of eviction and greatly expanded the number of vulnerable clients we are able to assist. We look forward to continuing this valuable collaboration going forward.”
According to Julia Lake, the Fellowship represented a “foot in the door” for someone whose interest in legal services began in college and was sustained throughout her time at NYU Law School. It was also an exciting time to join NYLAG and the housing team, given the increase in the City’s funding for eviction prevention services, and gave her the chance to manage a demanding case load and hone her lawyering skills early in her career.
“I’ve already grown accustomed to writing out stipulations by hand in the hallways, running around to locate opposing counsel, and shouting out names to find people. Setting aside the idiosyncrasies of housing court, this fellowship has been a great chance to develop litigation skills early on in my career. I’ve done motion practice, appeared on orders to show cause, motions to dismiss, prepared for trial, and negotiated settlements.”
As a Brooklyn native, Lake has also valued her work at two Single Stop clinics in Brooklyn—one in Brighton Beach and one in Bensonhurst – where she helps tenants with interesting and complex issues related to their rental subsidies and rent stabilized housing.
“Many of my Single Stop clients are seniors and many are Russian-speaking first generation immigrants. It’s been fascinating to meet with people in those two communities, especially having grown up in a different part of Brooklyn, since it provides a window into a completely different world and reinforces why doing this work to protect NYC’s diversity is so important.”