TESTIMONY: LiveOn NY Right to Counsel

New York City Council
Committee on Courts and Legal Services
Council Member Rory I. Lancman, Chair
September 26, 2016

Testimony by Katelyn Hosey, Housing Policy Analyst, LiveOn NY
in support of Intro. 214-A

LiveOn NY thanks Committee Chair Lancman for holding a hearing on this issue.  LiveOn NY also thanks Council Member Levine and cosponsors of Intro. 214-A.

LiveOn NY respectfully submits the following testimony on Intro. 214-A.

LiveOn NY is pleased to stand with Council Members Levine and Gibson, and City Council, to support Intro-214A. At the core of LiveOn NY’s mission, is the desire to make New York a better place to age. Supporting the Right to Counsel is one way to do just that.

Enabling low-income New Yorkers the right to a lawyer in housing court, the Right to Counsel is a groundbreaking piece of legislation and New York should be proud to be the first city nationally to enact it. For seniors, the prospect of eviction could not be more devastating, as research clearly shows the importance of aging in place to a senior’s health and quality of life. The stress of possibly losing your home and being disconnected from the social networks built over decades can have substantial adverse effects on the health of an older adult. Rates of depression are decreased and life expectancy is increased by aging in place, which can only be achieved through secure and stable housing in a community.

Seniors are anchors in their communities and have often lived in their homes for decades. The inability to pay for representation should not undermine the community roots they have worked so hard to maintain. Currently, over 200,000 older New Yorkers sit on waitlists to secure affordable housing, as found by a research study conducted by LiveOn NY. With the increasing difficulties tenants face to merely secure affordable housing, their shelter should not be easily stripped away, nor should they live in fear of unjust eviction.

Further, currently an estimated 3,000 seniors are homeless, sleeping in shelters or on the street every night. Data shows an estimated 37% of homelessness having stemmed from eviction, meaning that many of these homeless seniors may have avoided the harrowing experience of homelessness, if they had only received proper legal representation. New York has a moral obligation to ward against these unjust evictions for all New Yorkers, and particularly for seniors and other vulnerable populations.

Seniors, and all New Yorkers, need and deserve due process of law and it is up to City Council to ensure that it is received. Affirmed in the Constitution and provided for in criminal court cases, due process of law cannot be maintained without representation. With so many tenants unable to afford representation, and landlords recognizing the unbalanced nature of housing court, it is time that city Council tip back the scales towards a fair, equal, and just process.

The reasons to support Intro. 214-A are both numerous and compelling, as shelter is one of the most basic of human needs and the most important of senior’s needs and should not be so easily stripped away. For these reasons, and so many more, LiveOn NY urges City Council, not only to support the Right to Counsel, but to pass Intro. 214-A, this year.

Thank you for your time in working to address this issue.