Financial Counseling for Tenants at Risk
In September, NYLAG attorneys and financial counselors teamed up to launch the Housing Stability Project (HSP), a unique pilot program funded by the JP Morgan Chase Foundation to help low-income tenants at risk of eviction improve their long-term financial circumstances.
Clients who are currently receiving services from NYLAG’s Tenants’ Rights Unit (TRU) throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, and aboard the Mobile Legal Help Center, are now eligible for HSP services. They will be referred by their case handler to a NYLAG financial counselor, who will conduct a one-on-one assessment and develop a plan for eliminating barriers to financial stability. Counseling services will include budgeting, debt prioritization, strengthening and repairing credit, and screening for appropriate public benefits that increase a client’s income.
A crucial component of HSP will be follow-up. Even after initial goals have been met, clients often require additional support in circumstances such as loss or change of employment, unexpected medical expenses, or increase in family size. As counselors conduct follow-up, they will also track quantifiable improvements in clients’ financial situations and housing security.
“Our partnership with TRU addresses the dual legal and financial coaching needs we see in people facing all kinds of difficult financial situations,” said Doug Ostrov, Director of the Financial Counseling Division. “People who find themselves in Housing Court are totally overwhelmed by the threat of losing their homes. Once they connect with a NYLAG case handler, the immediate crisis may be averted, but the underlying economic vulnerability persists. Effective financial counseling can break the cycle that keeps them on the edge of homelessness.”
“Most of our clients find themselves at risk of eviction because they ran into some kind of financial set back: injury or illness, the loss of a job, the death of the wage-earner in a family. It’s not unusual for them to be paying 50, 60 even 70 percent of their income on rent – so it doesn’t take much to push them into crisis,” said Ann Dibble, Director of the Tenants’ Rights Unit. “We can help them weather the immediate threat, but not the underlying financial instability that, if left unaddressed, can result in ongoing risk of homelessness. The Housing Stability Project will allow them to better align their income with their expenses, ensuring that they can maintain their housing in the long-term.”
Clients typically connect with TRU after they have received a rent demand or a notice that they have to leave their apartment and, shortly thereafter, find that the landlord has filed a petition in Housing Court. The petition could either be for nonpayment of back rent that is allegedly owed or to have the client removed from the apartment. According to a recent report released by the NYC Office of Civil Justice, in 2015, 86 percent of all petitions filed in Housing Court were petitions for nonpayment of rent.
NYLAG has been offering housing services throughout New York City since 1990. Today, the Tenants’ Rights Unit provides a variety of legal services and counseling to clients, including direct representation in Housing Court on cases such as nonpayment eviction proceedings, holdover eviction proceedings, ejectment actions, and tenants seeking repairs. The unit also provides services to help low-income households avoid homelessness and entry into the shelter system, and works to ensure that housing is appropriate, safe, and habitable.
NYLAG’s Financial Counseling Division (FCD) provides a broad array of services, including credit building and repair, money management skills training, and debt reduction assistance. FCD has collaborated with a number of NYLAG’s legal units since its founding in 2008, initially focusing on clients struggling with layoffs and unemployment in the wake of the Great Recession. Since then, FCD has developed partnerships with a diverse range of clients, including victims of domestic violence trying to achieve financial independence, residents hit by Superstorm Sandy struggling to get back on their feet, and immigrants applying for citizenship, who want to build productive lives in their new country.
The JP Morgan Chase Foundation works with community partners to create pathways to opportunity by supporting workforce development, financial capability, small business development and community development. In 2015, JP Morgan Chase and its Foundation gave more than $200 million to thousands of nonprofit organizations across 47 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and 43 countries. More than 47,000 employees provided 310,000 hours of volunteer service in local communities around the globe.