NYCHA Program Coordinator
Housing Court Answers, Inc.
April 24, 2017
Testimony for the Committee on Public Housing and Committee on Oversight and Investigations on the Examination of DOI’s Report on NYCHA’s Permanent Exclusion Policy
In its report to NYCHA, the Department of Investigations recommends that the Authority terminate the tenancies of families when there has been the allegation of criminal activity. DOI also recommends that NYCHA vigorously prosecute cases through the hearing stage, and require tenants to raise a meritorious defense and good cause before re-opening defaults. While NYCHA currently files about 10,000 termination cases a year (according to the latest information we have), if followed, the DOI recommendations would greatly increase the number of cases that go to formal hearings.
Keeping in mind that the hearing officer is not an impartial judge but a NYCHA employee, how does the average person without an attorney, and without any legal background, raise a meritorious defense in these one-sided hearings? Currently, most termination proceedings are settled before a formal hearing with a binding agreement permanently excluding the arrested family member, and puts the tenant on probation, agreeing to be “terminated” if the excluded person is allowed to return. DOI is recommending that NYCHA skip this step and go straight to the hearing stage. For those cases that go to a formal hearing, once a decision is made, the tenant has four months to appeal if they lose. During that period, the agency starts a holdover proceeding in Housing Court to obtain the warrant of eviction. The Housing Court judge is powerless to overturn the decision made by the agency, and can only delay the process if the tenant is filing an appeal in State Supreme court – a process that few unrepresented tenants can do on their own.
An overwhelming majority of NYCHA residents go through the termination process without legal representation. Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Mark-Viverito recently promised Universal Access to an attorney for tenants facing eviction – paid for by the city if the family’s income is below 200% of the federal poverty level. However, administrative proceedings, including the NYCHA termination cases we are discussing today, will not be covered by the new right to counsel program. Today, the legal service programs assisting low income tenants facing eviction cover a tiny minority of residents in NYCHA termination proceedings.
The Coalition for the Homeless reports that over 10,000 families apply for shelter each year, and that there are over 62,000 people sleeping in city shelters tonight. We know that NYCHA is the most affordable and stable housing that the city provides for low income residents. And we know that a family evicted from a NYCHA apartment has no affordable alternatives. Other members of the Permanent Exclusion Working Group will be testifying on the criminal justice aspects of the DOI recommendations and how unjust they are.
Housing Court Answers would like to go on record with the position that until NYCHA families accused of crimes worthy of evicting them and making them homeless get an attorney and the opportunity to raise an adequate defense, NYCHA should resist the DOI recommendations.