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Thanksgiving Sunday in the Rockaways – by Lynn M. Kelly

It was cold and blustery in the Rockaways on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, when the City Bar Justice Center traveled to the Rockaways with eleven pro bono attorneys. The streets had been cleared of much of the debris and the solar panels which powered some of the neighborhood after the storm had been taken down. Luckily, power had just been restored to the neighborhood around 113th Street, where we were once again holding a free legal clinic at the YANA center.  We had enough attorneys to rotate staffing through the FEMA tent as well.  There was less foot traffic in the neighborhood as people stayed indoors. We had fewer visitors than at the previous clinics and interviewed eight clients.

Sandy Legal Clinic

Sandy legal clinic volunteers

There was no significant change in the mix of cases seen from the previous weekend’s two clinics.  Renters seeking abatements is probably the largest emerging legal issue, and with December rent bills arriving shortly,  storm-battered tenants want answers.  The New York City Housing Authority has announced it will provide abatements for the days without utilities in November but not until the January rent bill.  This will be viewed as a month too late by hard-pressed public housing tenants.  One of our volunteers negotiated the first abatement we have seen for a tenant renting a bungalow (50% of the portion of rent the tenant owes).  We would like to see an industry-wide sensible resolution of this issue rather than tenants having to withhold rent and get sued in Housing Court to get a fair abatement.

Our Foreclosure Project gave advice to a tenant from the first clinic whose building is being foreclosed upon.  The case is in court this month.  We also heard back that two of our clients from the first weekend clinic whose lawyers wrote compelling requests are being considered for grants through the New York Times Neediest Cases.  That will be a welcome influx of assistance.

In addition, this week we received our first two FEMA disputes for pro bono referral from Staten Island, and one of those is also an insurance appeal.  We are now focusing on how to distribute cases for extended pro bono representation.  We are negotiating to get pro bono attorneys into the NYC Recovery Centers so that we can be sited for the rest of December in a space with a greater concentration of Sandy victims.

Great thanks to Kathiana Aurelien, Sitso Bediako, Denise Calderon-Barrera, Keith Cantrelle, Tanisha Creel, Adeeb FadilLing Kong, Windy Lawrence, Marisa  Robecindo, Alan Rothstein, Frank Weigand and Jeremy Wilson for volunteering in the Rockaway community on Thanksgiving weekend.

Lynn M. Kelly is Executive Director of the City Bar Justice Center

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3 Responses to Thanksgiving Sunday in the Rockaways – by Lynn M. Kelly

  1. francisca Sabadie says:

    how does one find out about these things ahead of time?

    thank you

    • Richard Rifkin says:

      I grew up in Belle Harbor, and am terribly saddened by seeing what has happened to my old neighborhood. I now live in Albany, and I am not experienced in issues like landlord-tenant, insurance claims, etc. However, if I could help, I would try to come to the Rockways if you had some future effort there. My time is limited, and it may not be easy, but if you let me know in advance, and I could help, I would give it a shot.

    • Lynn Kelly says:

      We will be coordinating legal clinics the NYC Restoration Center in Arverne in the Rockaways from 10:30-2:30 the next three Saturdays in December and the Queens Volunteer Lawyers Project plans to be there at the same time on Thursdays in December.

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