November 2010 Volunteer Feature: Fitzpatrick, Cella Harper & Scinto Dedicate Pro Bono Resources to Save Crucial Section 8 Housing Subsidies for Low-Income New Yorkers
New York City has increased substantially the termination of Section 8 housing subsidy vouchers, placing low-income New Yorkers in danger of losing their subsidized apartments, one of the most important and largest source of affordable housing for low-income people in New York City. Vouchers are being terminated on a number of arbitrary grounds: the tenant had to transfer to a new apartment due to a building vacate order; unsubstantiated allegations that the tenant did not submit required documents; and bureaucratic lack of diligence in reviewing individual requests. Frequently the tenant has received neither legally required notice of the termination nor the opportunity to cure any defect in the application process. If the tenants, many of whom have small children, lose their homes there is a strong likelihood that the family will become homeless and the children will be placed into foster care.
To address this growing problem, the Legal Aid Society's Civil Practice initiated an Article 78 Pro Bono Project. Law firm pro bono counsel, working with experienced Legal Aid housing lawyers, have filed more than 22 Article 78 proceedings. Many of these cases have required home visits with clients and rapid preparation of preliminary injunction papers to prevent eviction in ancillary Housing Court proceedings. Fitzpatrick, Cella, Harper & Scinto is the leading firm in this endeavor, having committed significant resources to the project. The firm's attorneys have represented 9 clients and have built a sustainable Article 78 practice with the Queens and Bronx Civil Offices. Their dedicated representation of a tenant with disabilities seeking to transfer from her mold infested apartment, resulted in the restatement of her Section 8 housing subsidy, payment of back rent, and permission to re-locate. Prior to the firm's involvement, the New York Housing Authority had refused the transfer and had initiated an eviction proceeding in Queens Housing Court.
Other firms that have contributed pro bono counsel to this initiative include Cooley LLP; Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP; Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP; Mayer Brown LLP; Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP; Ropes & Gray LLP; Venable LLP; and Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP. The Legal Aid staff mentors consist of Supervising Attorney April Newbauer, Staff Attorney Carmine Annunziato and paralegal Xinmia Malave.