Surge in evictions could leave tenants without attorneys- POLITICO

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About three months since the end of New York’s eviction moratorium, legal services groups say they’re unable to keep up with “overwhelming demand” among tenants in need of legal representation.

The Legal Aid Society and the New York Legal Assistance Group said last week that attorneys will be unable to take new cases in Queens in April, and they’re calling on the Office of Court Administration to slow the calendaring of housing court cases to make sure those at risk of eviction can access an attorney. This is something that is theoretically guaranteed under the city’s right to counsel law, though the program is being stretched to its limits.

Without a slowdown, “I think we’re going to see a lot more people lose their homes, which is pretty devastating,” said Judith Goldiner, attorney in charge of Legal Aid’s civil law reform unit. “That’s really what happens when tenants don’t have attorneys. They’re going to lose their cases.”

The Office of Court Administration does not appear to be swayed, however. Spokesperson Lucian Chalfen disputed the characterization of “overwhelming demand,” and said housing court is not, and shouldn’t be, “the repository for the mismanagement and the inability of provider organizations, who are contracted with New York City’s Office of Civil Justice, to provide representation for respondents.”

“The City has the funds and desire to make sure that unrepresented litigants are provided with an attorney, to everyone’s benefit. Where are they?” Chalfen said in an email.

City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and other members recently wrote a letter to Mayor Eric Adams’ administration about the issue, calling on the Department of Social Services’ Office of Civil Justice to request that OCA adjust housing court calendars and adjourn certain cases to ensure tenants can access lawyers. In response, a DSS spokesperson said the agency has been “working closely” with legal services providers and “requesting key information to accurately convey their concerns to the courts.”

Landlord groups say the courts shouldn’t be further delaying cases, given an already severe backlog. “Is legal due process supposed to be on hold until they find enough attorneys?” said Jay Martin, executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program.

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LAND USE FIGHT — ‘This isn’t Podunk’: A Cuomo-era plan to dramatically alter Manhattan meets resistance, by POLITICO’s Danielle Muoio Dunn: Steve Roth, the chair of Vornado, the largest commercial landlord in New York City, had a piece of advice in 2010 for aspiring city planners: a blighted community is your friend. In a wide-ranging speech to Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Roth recounted how he deliberately let the Alexander’s department store on Manhattan’s Upper East Side sit vacant for more than three years before redeveloping it, even as his own mother complained of “bums sleeping in the sidewalks of this now closed, decrepit building.” “And what did I do? Nothing,” Roth said at the time. “Why did I do nothing? Because I was thinking in my own awkward way, that the more the building was a blight, the more the governments would want this to be redeveloped; the more help they would give us when the time came.” “And they did,” Roth concluded.

More than a decade later, Vornado is benefitting from a similar scenario to push through a massive development project in the heart of midtown Manhattan without any oversight from the city. To do so, Vornado has offered an appealing carrot: an opportunity to transform the 60-year-old Penn Station from a maligned rail hub to the pristine station it once was. Depending on who you ask, it’s either the biggest windfall to a politically-connected private developer in recent history, or the best shot at fixing North America’s busiest train station.

LOOKING AHEAD — At least $500M license fee, community board support needed for NYC-area casinos, by POLITICO’s Joseph Spector: Companies eager to open a New York City-area casino would need to pay at least $500 million for a license and win majority support of a local board if they want to open in the nation’s largest untapped market. The state budget set for approval Friday includes the stipulations as casino giants gear up to submit proposals to the state Gaming Commission in the coming months to win one of the three gambling licenses the state will allocate. “What this does is it allows the community to be involved through their elected leaders and also stops people from spending a lot of time and energy on something that may not have the local support,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said Thursday. “But we believe that there is a strong interest and objective in creating thousands of jobs and having opportunities for downstate casinos.”

BUDGET WATCH — Major housing policy items left to be debated post-budget, by POLITICO’s Janaki Chadha: Several thorny policy issues around real estate and housing were left out of the state budget deal poised for approval Friday — leaving lawmakers to debate them during the remainder of this year’s legislative session. They include the controversial 421-a tax break set to expire in June, a plan to help overhaul the city’s public housing stock, a measure to prevent landlords from evicting tenants without “good cause” and a push to legalize accessory dwelling units. The state budget is expected to include $800 million for the state’s cash-strapped emergency rental assistance program, which has been short on funds since last year as many renters across the state remain in need of help. It will also include funds for a new five-year affordable housing plan rolled out by Gov. Kathy Hochul in January, and $350 million for the struggling New York City Housing Authority.

CHANGE OF PLANS — Judge finds city had no legal right to yank license for Trump’s Bronx golf course, by POLITICO’s Julia Marsh: A Manhattan judge ruled Friday there was no “legal foundation” for former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision to cancel the city’s contract with Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point Park in the Bronx following the Jan. 6 insurrection. De Blasio administration officials notified the Trump Organization on Jan. 15, 2021, that the city was pulling the group’s operating license for the 18-hole course in the Throgs Neck section of the Bronx. They referenced the “actions of Donald J. Trump and Donald Trump Jr.” that “incited” the attack on the Capitol as well as the Professional Golfers’ Association’s termination of the 2022 PGA Championship at the Trump Bedminster golf course in New Jersey as reasons for revoking the Ferry Point license.”

NOT SO FAST — “NYC Cuts Off Wells Fargo From New Bank Contracts Following Discrimination Claims,” by THE CITY’s George Joseph: “Mayor Eric Adams and Comptroller Brad Lander have publicly promised that New York City will block Wells Fargo from any new contracts for banking services, following claims the financial giant racially discriminates against Black homeowners. The pledge comes on the heels of a letter Adams and Lander received on Monday from Public Bank NYC, an advocacy coalition campaigning for a government-run municipal bank, which slammed Wells Fargo for disproportionately denying Black homeowners’ mortgage refinancing applications last year. Wells Fargo is one of 30 financial institutions approved to compete for contracts to host municipal bank accounts, which city agencies use to hold payroll, fees, and other pots of money.”

TIP ME: Something going on readers should know about? Have a tip or a story idea? Email me at [email protected].

LAW AND DISORDER — “Eviction attorneys sued tenants who didn’t owe rent: AG,” by The Real Deal’s  Suzannah Cavanaugh: “Attorney General Letitia James sued real estate law firm Balsamo Rosenblatt & Hall for allegedly filing unwarranted eviction suits against tenants. In some instances, tenants were removed from their homes. A complaint filed in Manhattan alleges that the firm and partners Robert Rosenblatt and Edward Hall copied and pasted landlords’ assertions about unpaid rent into court filings without reviewing those cases or demanding documentation of rent owed. The filing also claims the attorneys sent rent demands to tenants who were not in arrears. Some of the renters who received notices demanding rent hadn’t signed a lease with the landlord pursuing eviction, according to the state court filing. In other cases, the law firm allegedly listed the wrong apartment number or an incorrect monthly rent to calculate what was due.”

EXPANSION PLANS — “Viking Hedge Fund Plans NYC Office Expansion as Headcount Grows,” by Bloomberg’s Natalie Wong and Hema Parmar: “Andreas Halvorsen’s mega hedge fund firm, Viking Global Investors, is looking to relocate its Manhattan offices and snap up more space as it ramps up growth in New York City. The firm is in talks for more than 100,000 square feet (9,300 square meters) of space at 660 Fifth Ave., an office tower that’s undergoing a $400 million redevelopment by Brookfield Properties, according to people familiar with the matter. Discussions are ongoing and nothing is finalized, the people said, asking not to be named because the matter is private. Viking plans to move from its current 280 Park Ave. location, where it has outgrown its roughly 60,000 square feet of offices, the people said. The new location would provide more space for its current team as well as new employees the firm plans to bring on. Like many funds, Viking increased hiring during the pandemic.”

— “Harlem townhouse fetches neighborhood record price,” by The Real Deal’s Harrison Connery

— “The XI Prepares To Resume Construction At 76 Eleventh Avenue In Chelsea, Manhattan,” by YIMBY’s Michael Young

— “Deals of the Day, April 8,” by Crain’s Beth Treffeisen