The Legal Aid Society and the City of New York Announce Settlement In Homeless Families Case, Ending 25-Year Litigation
Steven Banks, Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, address the press conference at which he and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced the settlement in the homeless families case. Also participating in the press conference at City Hall were (from left) Corporation Counsel Michael A. Cardozo; Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Linda I. Gibbs; Mayor Bloomberg; Commissioner Robert V. Hess, the Department of Homeless Services; and City Council Member Bill de Blasio.

After 25 years of litigation, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Steven Banks, Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, announced the settlement of the Society's homeless families case during a press conference at City Hall.

"This is a historic day for homeless children and their families," Banks told the packed press conference. "We were able to reach a break-through settlement that will benefit all the people of this City by ensuring that homeless families with children will be treated decently and in accordance with legal requirements to which we have all now agreed."

Homeless2While the agreement, signed today by the parties ends the current litigation and current court oversight of the City's family shelter services system, "an enforceable right to shelter for homeless children and their families is now permanent," Banks said, "no matter what administration is in office, no matter who is mayor."

Mayor Bloomberg said that " we can all move forward in our shared commitment to effectively meeting the needs of homeless families." He said the settlement could not have been reached without the cooperation of the Society.

The agreement is subject to court approval.

Alan Levine, Chairman of the Board of Directors of The Legal Aid Society and Presiding Partner of the New York office of Cooley Godward Kronish LLP, said that "on behalf of the Board of Directors of The Legal Aid Society, we congratulate the Legal Aid lawyers involved in the homeless families litigation, in particular Steven Banks, and the pro bono counsel from Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP, lead by Richard Clary, on this historic achievement for the people of New York City. We also commend Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo. We have been able to get to this historic point because the litigation in the homeless families case helped move us from an unacceptable shelter system to a better shelter system. We are also grateful to Justice Helen Freedman for her concern for children, her patience, and her oversight of this litigation before her recent elevation to the Appellate Division, First Department.

Banks thanked the members of the Society's Homeless Rights Unit including Jane Bock, Josh Goldfein, Judith Goldiner, Beile Lindner, Anya Maddow-Zimet, Amanda Moretti and Amy Mulzer and the team from the law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP who served as co-counsel on this case. We appreciate the tireless efforts of the Homeless Rights and Cravath attorneys and paralegals on behalf of homeless children and their families.

We also greatly appreciate the pro bono expert consulting assistance provided by NERA.


The New York Times
September 17, 2008, 10:57 am
City Settles Lawsuit Over Homeless Families
By Sewell Chan

The Bloomberg administration has decided to settle a longstanding class-action lawsuit over homeless families’ access to shelter in New York City, ending costly litigation that has dragged on since May 1983, through four mayoral administrations. The settlement, which Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced at a news conference this morning, comes as city officials acknowledge that the mayor’s plan to reduce homelessness by two-thirds by 2009 has fallen far short of it goals. While the number of homeless single adults has fallen a bit, the number of homeless families has risen. There are about 9,000 homeless families, including about 14,000 children, sleeping in city shelters every night this month. City spending on homelessness prevention has risen, to $191.2 million in 2007 from $160.6 million in 2004, and spending on homeless shelters has grown to $603.5 million from $563.4 million, the city’s Independent Budget Office found in a study [pdf] last month.

The main lawsuit being settled, McCain v. Koch, was filed in 1983 by the Legal Aid Society to draw attention to the plight of homeless families, after similar lawsuits had been filed over the rights of homeless men and women. Those lawsuits had resulted in the establishment, unusual in the United States, of a right to shelter in New York City.

The McCain suit argued that the city had failed to provide adequate shelter or develop standards governing shelter for families. (The named plaintiff in the suit was Yvonne McCain, who was evicted from a Brooklyn apartment in 1982 after withholding rent to protest her landlord’s refusal to make repairs.)

Over the years, related lawsuits were filed arguing, like the McCain case, that homeless families were improperly denied shelter or even barred from applying for it; those lawsuits, too, are part of today’s settlement.

A court-appointed panel of special masters had urged an end to the litigation nearly three years ago. But the litigation resumed in 2005, after a two-year hiatus. The city moved in 2006 to dismiss the lawsuit, saying it had taken major steps to transform the system, but the case dragged. The settlement announced today occurred after talks between the city’s top lawyer, Corporation Counsel Michael A. Cardozo, and Steven Banks, attorney in chief at the Legal Aid Society.

Under the settlement, the parties agreed a new case would be filed and, following a class action settlement hearing, all cases against the city and state, as well as the new one, would be dismissed. The city will regain full control and oversight of its family services system, “no longer having to enforce over 40 highly-detailed court orders or spend precious staff time and agency resources complying with or litigating these cases,” City Hall said in a statement.

The statement added:

As part of the settlement, the parties have agreed that New York City would continue its long-standing interpretation of state and local laws ensuring safe and decent emergency shelter for homeless families with children. The settlement also includes provisions that outline current agency standards and protocols for assessing shelter eligibility; under the terms of the agreement, these provisions sunset on Dec. 31, 2010, unless the agency were to be found in “systemic non-compliance” with its provisions in a separate successful litigation.

The mayor said in a statement:

Today marks the beginning of a new era – an era in which the need for court oversight is over and we can all move forward in our shared commitment to effectively meeting the needs of homeless families. The family shelter system of today focuses on prevention like never before, helps families find permanent housing like never before, and balances rights with responsibilities like never before. Today’s historic agreement not only recognizes the tremendous progress we’ve made over the past six and a half years, it frees us to make even more.

Mr. Banks, who worked on the litigation with the law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore, said in a statement:

Today is a historic day for homeless children and their families in this city. We have been able to reach a breakthrough settlement of 25 years of litigation that will benefit all the people of this City by ensuring that homeless families with children will be treated appropriately and in accordance with legal requirements to which we have all now agreed.

Mary Brosnahan, executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless, the city’s leading advocacy group for the homeless, said in a statement:

We applaud today’s settlement of the McCain litigation. On the brink of open court testimony from mothers with children who have been relegated to sleeping on our sidewalks, in church basements, laundry mats, and other public spaces, the Bloomberg Administration has come to its senses and agreed to codify an enforceable Right to Shelter for families with vulnerable children.

David W. Chen and Leslie Kaufman contributed reporting.