Tenants facing eviction from apartments in parts of Brooklyn and Manhattan are getting some unexpected assistance from a new legal program. NY1's Criminal Justice reporter Lily Jamali filed the following report.
Miguel Jorge has lived at 65 Payson Avenue in Inwood, Manhattan for 22 years. For most of that time, he paid less than the going rate in exchange for helping the owner with odd jobs around the house, which has been divided up and rented.
"Clean everything. I painted the basement," said Jorge.
But at the end of this month, Jorge will have to leave. The owner died last year and when his sister took over, she would not take Jorge's rent payments.
This fall, in court, Jorge said he signed papers agreeing to leave the apartment but he said he did not understand what he was signing at the time.
A new program called "Launch Pad for Justice" that started in October seeks to help people like Jorge who don't have legal representation of their own. Recent graduates of City University of New York Law School who have yet to pass the bar will be made available to them at the courthouse.
Every Thursday, the graduates are on hand to serve people living in Washington Heights and Inwood in Manhattan and Fort Greene and Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn who are facing eviction for failure to pay rent.
Advocates say those neighborhoods have a disproportionately high number of tenants facing eviction.
Fifty people have gotten courthouse assistance so far.
"The tenants will be able to consult with the attorney, and the attorney during the court appearance would be able to help them in either negotiating the case or moving the case forward," said attorney Pedro Rivera.
Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat, representatives from CUNY Law School and several advocates celebrated the program Friday morning at his Northern Manhattan office.
"I think many tenants will be very surprised that when they go down to answer these eviction notices, they now have free legal services available to them," said the assemblyman.
The help is welcomed by people like Jorge, and organizers hope it will eventually spread to people from other neighborhoods too.