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The Legal Aid Society-First Responders

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Jasmina Chuck

on 8 February 2013

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Transcript of The Legal Aid Society-First Responders

Hurricane Sandy "killed more than 100 people,
destroyed whole communities in coastal New York and New Jersey,
left tens of thousands homeless,
crippled mass transit,
triggered paralyzing gas shortages,
inflicted billions of dollars in infrastructure damage
and cut power to more than 8 million homes,
some of which remained dark for weeks." The New York Times 11.6.2012 The Legal Aid Society Hurricane Sandy Disaster Relief Response Highlights the Comprehensive Expertise
and Services of the Society as
Legal “First Responder” Repairs and Rent Abatements

Housing and Rental Subsidy Assistance

Mortgage and Homeowner Insurance Assistance

Community Development Needs

Disaster Response Planning Ongoing Sandy Related Recovery Issues
In contrast, in New Jersey 70 application sites were provided, with some areas having between 7-10 sites.

The City made no provision for accepting applications by telephone or through outreach home visits in affected communities.

Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, Members of the New York City Congressional Delegation, New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and City Councilmembers have all called for an expansion of the City's disaster relief food stamp program. Impact and Affirmative Litigation
to Address the Crisis The Society commenced federal litigation to challenge the City's failure to accommodate the needs of Hurricane victims with disabilities in implementing the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Toney-Dick v. Doar

The City limited the program to impacted eligible people in 10 zip codes and parts of 2 others; another similar program in November included impacted eligible people in 82 zip codes.

The City restricted in-person applications to a single Human Resources Administration center in Fort Greene in Brooklyn for a seven-day period and a high school in Staten Island open on a part-time basis for a four-day period. Impact and Affirmative Litigation
to Address the Crisis On November 30th with more than 1,000 families and individuals housed by the City in hotels in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, scores of frantic evacuees reached out to the Society because they were told they would be forced to leave their hotel rooms by the weekend.

While most had FEMA checks in hand for the first month of a housing allowance, the money was not sufficient to cover a security deposit and the first month’s rent, and the proposed summary removal from the hotels would have required that the homeless evacuees put down a security deposit, pay the first month’s rent and be approved by the landlord in a 24- to 48-hour time frame

The Society’s advocacy with FEMA extended the hotel evacuees’ approved and funded shelter stays. Advocacy for Homeless Evacuees Rent Abatement - Responding to advocacy by The Legal Aid Society, NYCHA has agreed to grant a full abatement for each day that a tenant was without one of the basic services of electricity, heat, hot water or elevator service.

Moratorium on Evictions - The Society requested that NYCHA cancel all evictions through January 2013 and agree not to commence any new non-payment or holdover proceedings against tenants in the most heavily impacted areas. NYCHA agreed to a moratorium on evictions through February 1, 2013 and agreed that there will be no new Successful Results of Policy Advocacy After Sandy hit, NYCHA requested to meet with the Society on November 7th and then held a second meeting attended by NYCHA’s General Manager, Director of Operations and General Counsel.

Prior to the meetings, the Society made requests for information about the status of power restoration, homebound tenants, and conditions in apartments.

The Society requested that NYCHA grant a rent abatement for the full month of November to address the lack of services in public housing apartments, suspend all eviction proceedings and institute a special procedure for Section 8 tenants seeking transfers caused by Sandy damage. Policy Advocacy on Behalf of Public Housing and Section 8 Tenants
In the most heavily impacted areas of Red Hook, Coney Island and the Rockaways, most residents have experienced problems with intermittent power, heat and hot water and elevator service because temporary generators and boilers are unable to power full usage by buildings.

In the most heavily impacted areas, Sandy caused damage to many private apartments leased by Section 8 tenants, forcing the tenants to evacuate the apartments and rendering their homes uninhabitable.

Thousands of NYCHA residents were forced to spend money on flash lights, batteries, bottled water, prepared food, and space heaters in order to survive during this time. Impact of Hurricane Sandy on NYC’s Most Vulnerable Tenants in NYCHA Housing NYCHA shut down all elevators in public housing developments throughout Zone A and ordered the evacuation of all residents in those buildings as of 7 p.m. on October 28, 2012.

Immediately after Sandy hit on October 29, 2012, 79,000 NYCHA residents were left without electricity and 77,000 had no heat or hot water.

On November 14, 2012, NYCHA announced that it had restored services to 100% of its buildings.

Many residents report problems with leaks in their apartments post-Sandy, some have mold or mildew, problems with plastering and damp walls. Impact of Hurricane Sandy on NYC’s Most Vulnerable Tenants in NYCHA Housing
Recruited by the Pro Bono Department and supervised by Society staff, individual private law firms have committed to the following:

Regular staffing of the Hurricane Sandy Disaster Relief Helpline which is a resource for both individuals impacted as well as advocates in the field with specific legal questions.

Regular staffing of our disaster relief assistance sites in Far Rockaway, Coney Island, and Red Hook and on the Mobile Justice Unit.

Assistance in the provision of pro bono legal representation on complicated insurance, SBA and FEMA denial claims and cases that individuals and business owners have post-Sandy which many New York City firms are conflicted from taking. Pro Bono Partnerships On Friday, November 9th The Legal Aid Society provided one of the first trainings for pro bono lawyers assisting impacted individuals and families in partnership with The City Bar Justice Center, Legal Services NYC, and the City Bar Committee on Pro Bono and Legal Services.

Developed a Disaster Relief Legal Assistance Manual for volunteers; and conducted disaster assistance training for small businesses in affected communities in the City.

Recruited firms to provide Insurance Claims and FEMA Appeals trainings for staff to issue spot and provide services. Training for Advocates and the
Pro Bono Community Established sites with Community-Based Organizations in the impacted Communities

Host legal clinics at the request of elected officials throughout the City

Established Homeowner and Small Business Legal Clinics with the New York City Economic Development Corporation and the Federal Reserve Bank Working with Community Partners and Elected Officials Beginning on November 5th, The Legal Aid Society converted its Access to Benefits Helpline into our Disaster Relief Helpline to assist individuals with answering specific disaster related questions. On Sunday, November 4th, Society staff provided legal assistance to victims of Hurricane Sandy by helping with FEMA and food stamp applications at the Miller Field/New Dorp Lane FEMA Center in Staten Island, at the John Jay High School Shelter in Brooklyn, and with New York Communities for Change in Far Rockaway. On Saturday and Sunday, Society staff assisted public housing residents with FEMA and emergency food stamp applications and other legal needs in Coney Island and at the Red Hook Community Center. The Legal Aid Society coordinated this effort with the offices of Congressmember Jerrold Nadler, Congressmember Hakeem Jeffries, and Councilmember Domenic Recchia. By Friday, November 2nd, Society staff, using personal tablet computers and cell phones, assisted public housing residents with FEMA and emergency food stamp applications and other legal needs at the Red Hook Initiative, a community-based organization close to the six public housing developments in Red Hook which were devastated by Hurricane Sandy.
The Immediate Response Just Days After the Storm
Assisting affected New Yorkers with:

FEMA Claims
Emergency Food Stamps and Public Assistance
Disaster Unemployment Insurance claims
Replacement of Medication and Medical Equipment
Housing Assistance to Tenants in Public Housing, Section 8 and Private Rental Housing
School Transfer and Transportation Issues
Family Law and Domestic Violence Issues
Homeowner/Mortgage/Foreclosure/Insurance Assistance
Small Business Matters with loans and other small businesses matters
Immigration Issues Direct Legal Assistance Direct Legal Assistance

Working with Community Partners and Elected Officials

Training for Advocates and the Pro Bono Community

Pro Bono Partnerships

Policy Advocacy on Behalf of Clients

Impact and Affirmative Litigation Beginning in the immediate aftermath of the storm, staff members mobilized and provided comprehensive disaster relief legal assistance at:

Evacuation Shelters
Disaster Centers
Community-Based Organizations and Churches
The Society’s Mobile Justice Unit
A Toll-Free Disaster Helpline that the Society established “First Responder”
A comprehensive approach to helping our client communities and New York City recover and become stronger. The Legal Aid Society
Hurricane Sandy
Disaster Relief Response Successful Results of Policy Advocacy
Prioritizing Sandy Related Repairs - In response to the Society’s concerns about dangerous and emergency conditions caused by Sandy in NYCHA apartments, NYCHA agreed to set up a dedicated team of responders on its CCC telephone line to address these needs.

Sandy Emergency Section 8 Transfers - During outreach, the Society met numerous Section 8 tenants who had been displaced from their private apartments as a result of damage caused by Sandy. Immediately after Sandy hit the City, NYCHA required that a tenant provide proof of displacement from FEMA, the FDNY or Red Cross. In response to the Society’s request to waive all such requirements and expedite all Sandy transfer requests, NYCHA dropped the requirement and began scheduling briefings for transfer vouchers on an expedited basis.

Public Housing Temporary Transfers due to Sandy Damage - In response to the Society’s requests on this issue, NYCHA agreed to ensure that any public housing tenant who is required to move out of his/her apartment in order for repairs to be made has a right to return to his/her home after repairs are completed. On Tuesday November 6th, our individual outreach sites were established in Red Hook, Coney Island and Far Rockaway. While the locations have changed, often due to circumstances encountered by our community partners, or City policy regarding staffing at the Restoration Centers, we have been able to maintain a consistent presence in each of these affected communities of the City. In addition, Society staff provides regular intake services from the Mobile Justice Unit at the Prevention Assistance and Temporary Housing (PATH) office in the Bronx and canvasses the hotels where evacuees have been placed. Far Rockaway
Coney Island
Red Hook
Staten Island
Lower East Side Targeted Disaster Relief in the Most Affected Communities Services of the Society as
Legal “First Responder” GOING BEYOND THE CASE During the storm and in the immediate aftermath requests for our civil legal assistance have increased exponentially and low-income New Yorkers need our legal help more than ever.
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