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Morning Spew

Thursday Is for Contemplating NYC’s Housing Crisis

Low-income tenants aren't getting the free representation promised to them by the City, a Gowanus block may get no new below-market rate housing, and more of what we're crying about today.

Sunrise over New York City tenements in Brooklyn, looking towards the Manhattan skyline

(Joshua Armstrong / Unsplash)

As the number of eviction cases continues to rise, the City's much-vaunted "right to counsel" for low-income tenants facing eviction continues to be, like most "rights" in this country, one in name only

Updated numbers obtained by the CITY paint a picture of how the City is continuing to fail on its promise to provide free legal representation to qualifying tenants: Last month, "fewer than 10 percent of new cases got assigned a lawyer," even as the vast majority of tenants whose landlords take them to housing court qualify for a free attorney. 

More, via the CITY:

The state data shows that only 36 percent of tenants received legal counsel when appearing for an eviction case this year, compared to 98 percent of landlords who had legal counsel. 

Moreover, the weekly rate of legal representation for tenants in Housing Court has steadily declined, month after month, since January—dropping as low as 6 percent during one week in September. 

As Hell Gate reported recently, the failures of right to counsel stem in part from staffing shortages at legal service providers—but much of the blame can be pinned squarely on housing court officials and the Office of Court Administration, which has refused calls from tenant advocates to slow the pace of eviction cases. As OCA spokesperson Lucian Chalfen told us, a request "to discriminate" the timing of eviction cases to allow tenants time to line up a lawyer is "potentially unconstitutional.” 

In other housing news that has YIMBYs upset, a city council committee recently approved, per New York Focus and the CITY, a "last-minute change to a proposed rezoning of a block in Gowanus, Brooklyn, that will slash new buildings' maximum size to half of the original proposal, at the request of local Councilmember Shahana Hanif." This change might mean that there won't be any below-market rate housing built by the developer of the site at all. 

More, via New York Focus and the CITY: 

The shrunken proposal will cap buildings in the zone at 55 feet and five stories, down from 95 feet and nine stories. The two lots where the Gatto Trust proposed buildings are now likely to produce as few as 25 units and seven affordable units, according to an estimate by the Department of City Planning. 

They could also produce no affordable units at all. Under the lower height limits, the buildings are more likely to end up below the size threshold at which city zoning rules require developers to build affordable units.

Wouldn't it be nice if we had a unified housing movement in this city, one that could collectively push for more housing creation (maybe even…social housing?) and stronger tenant protections? (Remember Good Cause Eviction, anyone?) And maybe do something about all of those vacant rent-stabilized apartments that landlords are holding hostage? One can dream. 

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