Attorney General Letitia James Announces Grantees for COVID-19 Tenant Legal Assistance Initiative

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James today announced the recipients of the COVID-19 Tenant Legal Assistance Initiative grants, a program that was launched earlier this year to support housing during COVID-19. The six grantees will develop and manage regional volunteer attorney programs across the state to provide support for tenants facing eviction due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to providing legal support, as part of the program, these organizations will work together to identify systemic housing issues that New Yorkers outside of New York City face.

“As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, more New Yorkers than ever are facing tough times and the threat of losing their homes,” said Attorney General James. “Too many New Yorkers don’t have access to the legal representation and support needed to protect themselves from eviction, especially when they are already feeling the financial strains of this crisis. Every New Yorker deserves access to a safe and decent home, and my office will continue our efforts to protect that basic right.”

  • Erie County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project (Erie, Genesee, Niagara, Orleans, and Wyoming Counties)

  • Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York (Broome, Cayuga, Chenango, Cortland, Delaware, Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, Madison, Oneida, Onondaga, Oswego, and Otsego Counties)

  • Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York (Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer, Columbia, Greene, Saratoga, Warren, Washington, Fulton, Montgomery, Schoharie, Essex, Clinton, Franklin, St. Lawrence, and Hamilton Counties)

  • Legal Assistance of Western New York (Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Chemung, Livingston, Ontario, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Tioga, Tompkins, Wayne, and Yates Counties)

  • Legal Services of the Hudson Valley (Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Ulster, and Westchester Counties)

  • Nassau Suffolk Law Services (Nassau and Suffolk Counties)

“When the eviction courts fully re-open, we anticipate an overwhelming flood of eviction filings and a potential public health crisis,” said Robert Elardo, executive director, Erie County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project, Inc. “This proactive funding will ensure that tenants' interests are represented and homelessness is avoided where possible. We are very grateful to Attorney General Letitia James for providing this funding to help tenants in Western New York.”

“The Legal Aid Society of NENY is honored to receive a COVID-19 Tenant Legal Assistance Grant,” said Lilian Moy, executive director, Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York. “We will use these funds to strengthen and expand our network of housing pro bono volunteers across our large urban, suburban and rural service area. Thank you, Attorney General Letitia James.”

“This grant from Attorney General Letitia James’ Office comes at a crucial time in our region,” said Paul Lupia, executive director, Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York. “The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted household after household across New York state and the threat of people being illegally evicted hangs heavy. We would like to thank Attorney General James for her focus on the unique challenges that families in Central New York and the Southern Tier face in tenant legal proceedings, and how those challenges become more complicated without access to legal counsel and the looming pandemic. We look forward to putting these funds from Attorney General James’ office to very good use.”

“Legal Assistance of Western New York, Inc. (LawNY) is excited to begin this pro bono effort with the Attorney General's Office to provide crucial legal services in the economically depressed Southern Tier region,” said Kelly McGovern, director of Pro Bono Affairs, Legal Assistance of Western New York. “This grant allows LawNY to work with other grantees, agencies, and volunteers to provide a coordinated and supportive response to rural clients who are facing eviction and family instability as a result of COVID-19.”

“We are grateful to Attorney General Letitia James and her support of free civil legal services for our most vulnerable neighbors,” said Barbara Finkelstein, CEO, Legal Aid Society of the Hudson Valley. “This project gives Legal Services of the Hudson Valley (LSHV) the means to expand our pro bono partnerships so that more individuals faced with eviction in our region will have access to high quality legal representation during this pandemic.”

“Before the pandemic struck, more than half of Long Island families struggled to pay their rent each month,” said Jeffrey Seigel, executive director, Nassau Suffolk Law Services. “Even a minor financial set-back could put these families at risk of homelessness and risk destabilizing their communities. The COVID-19 crisis has upended the lives of many people in our community and complicated the legal issues people at risk of eviction face. Nassau Suffolk Law Services is grateful to the Attorney General's office for supporting our work to prevent homelessness which is more critical than ever before.”

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) also selected one grantee to manage an online resource center with materials and guidance related to tenants’ rights and protections during COVID-19. Pro Bono Net will develop and manage this resource center, which will also serve as a hub to provide COVID-19-specific training for pro bono attorneys from the six organizations providing legal support.

“At a time when New Yorkers are facing many life-changing issues as a result of the pandemic, including housing instability, an area that touches every aspect of our lives and communities, we are grateful to Attorney General Letitia James for this grant and her support of tenants across New York state,” said Mark O'Brien, executive director, Pro Bono Net. “This initiative will leverage technology and online resources to ensure that at-risk tenants throughout the state are able to secure pro bono legal support to protect their homes and families. It will also support the vital work of legal aid providers to recruit, train and assist volunteer lawyers, and build capacity to respond to long-term housing advocacy needs.”

The funds for this program come from the National Mortgage Settlement, and the OAG is using $742,000 to support one year of the program. An RFP was released on August 4, 2020 to kickstart the competitive process and applications were due on August 25, 2020.