City Council Subcommittee Hears Testimony on Eviction Services for Disabled and Elderly Populations

New York City Council Member Inez Barron. Image credit: NYCC/William Alatriste

New York City Council Member Inez Barron. Image credit: NYCC/William Alatriste

If enacted, the bills would mandate the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to provide legal assistance information to susceptible tenants. On May 4, 2016, the City Council Subcommittee on Housing and Buildings held a public hearing on two bills introduced to ensure seniors and disabled persons facing eviction have access to information about the legal services available to help them. The bills would mandate the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to provide such tenants with referrals to legal services organizations upon being notified of the initiation of eviction proceedings.

On September 23, 2014, City Council Member Inez Barron introduced Intro 477-2014, which includes the provisions pertaining to seniors facing eviction. On April 16, 2015, Subcommittee Chair Jumaane Williams introduced Intro 755-2015, which includes the provisions pertaining to persons with disabilities facing eviction.

New York City Council Member Jumaane Williams. Image credit: NYCC/William Alatriste

New York City Council Member Jumaane Williams. Image credit: NYCC/William Alatriste

At the May 4th hearing, Council Member Barron spoke about the problems addressed by Intro 477. According to Council Member Barron, “more than 20 percent of older adults live in poverty.” She continued by explaining that while many of them are rent-burdened, they typically do not qualify for public benefits.

Dana Sussman, Special Counsel to the Commissioner and Chair at the New York City Commission on Human Rights, testified to the initiatives implemented and carried out by the Commission to address issues related to housing discrimination as they specifically relate to discrimination based on age and disability. Commissioner Sussman testified that in 2015, the Commission opened 31 percent more investigations than it did in 2015. Of these investigations, approximately one-third were housing discrimination cases. “Complaints based on disability discrimination represented the largest proportion of complaints in housing; the vast majority of which involve requests for reasonable accommodations,” said Commissioner Sussman.  She continued to testify to the Commission’s revamping of its programs, including those involving community outreach and education, which has included co-hosting panel discussions at local community centers about protecting against housing discrimination, hosting the “Fair Housing Symposium” at CUNY Law School in Long Island City, and partnering with other mayoral agencies to conduct staff training, develop referral networks, and overall increase the Commission’s ability and capacity for identifying and handling housing discrimination cases.

Deborah Rand, Assistant Commissioner for Housing Litigation with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, testified in opposition to the proposed bills. According to Assistant Commissioner Rand, HPD is not involved in handling eviction proceedings, but there are several other City agencies, legal services groups, and non-profit community organizations which may become involved in the process if a tenant utilizes one of the programs available to households facing eviction. She noted that the New York City Human Resources Administration, which manages the City-funded free legal services programs, has “increased tenant protection legal services more than tenfold, compared to the level funded under the previous administration, reaching $62 million when fully operational in fiscal year 2018.”

Assistant Commissioner Rand added testimony that the proposed bills would require a landlord to inform HPD upon commencing eviction proceedings against a senior citizen or person with disabilities, and HPD would not be able to enforce the proposed bills’ provisions because landlords are not often aware of their tenants’ ages and disabilities, if any exist. “An unintended consequence of these bills may be that landlords would begin sending notices of all evictions actions to HPD for fear of contravening these bills,” said Assistant Commissioner Rand.

Council Member Barron questioned Assistant Commissioner Rand on the role HPD and the Commission could play if not in the context that would be mandated by the proposed bills. Assistant Commissioner Rand testified that HPD would be appropriate in handling tenant harassment issues, but it is not involved in eviction proceedings and would not be the appropriate agency to deal with eviction issues. Commissioner Sussman testified that the Human Rights Commission exists simply to enforce the City’s Human Rights Law, which does not include eviction proceedings, either.

Intro 477 has garnered the support of 14 City Council members, and Intro 755 is supported by nine Council members. The Committee has not yet scheduled a date to vote on either piece of legislation.

City Council: Evictions of Elderly Tenants (Int. 477-2014); Eviction of Disabled Tenants (Int. 755-2015) (May 4, 2016).

By: Jessica Soultanian-Braunstein (Jessica is the CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School graduate, Class of 2015)

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.