Legal Aid Society and Weil Win Major Victory For Hundreds Of Sandy Evacuees
THURSDAY, MAY 16, 2013

New York County Supreme Court Justice Margaret Chan yesterday ruled that the City may not end the hotel program for hundreds of Sandy evacuees and pointed out that a new federal program to provide $9 million in rental assistance for Sandy victims could be used to help the families. The Legal Aid Society and the law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP represented the plaintiffs. The Legal Aid Society has urged the City to find permanent housing for the Sandy victims.

Joshua Goldfein, a Staff Attorney in the Society's Homeless Rights Project, told the Wall Street Journal that "We hope the city will now implement the rental voucher program quickly. We want our clients moved out of the hotels. That's all we want." Judith Goldiner, Attorney-in-Charge of the Society's Civil Law Reform Unit, told the New York Times that the City must now speed up the distribution of rental vouchers to assist all the evacuees in securing a home. “In a couple of months everyone could be out of the hotels,” she said.

The Legal Aid Society and Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP filed this lawsuit, Alycia Sapp et al v. City of New York, on April 29 on behalf of low-income New Yorkers charging that the City has not done enough to help Sandy refugees find housing and seeking to prevent the City from stopping hotel assistance for Sandy victims. Justice Margaret Chan granted a Temporary Restraining Order, and extended the order until May 15, thereby ensuring that Hurricane Sandy evacuees living in City-paid hotel rooms will have a place to stay for at least two more weeks. Despite the fact that the City had announced at a City Council hearing on April 26 that it would end the hotel program for 196 households on April 30, the City told Justice Chan that it had paid the hotels through May 15.

WNYC, Reuters, NY1, the New York Law Journal, and the Epoch Times also reported yesterday's court hearing.

The Legal Aid team includes Judith Goldiner; Joshua Goldfein and Cristina Schrum-Herrara of the Society's Homeless Rights Project and Young Lee and Tashi Lhewa of the Society's Queens Sandy Unit. The Weil pro bono team is comprised of Weil partner Konrad Cailteux, associates Isabella Lacayo, Jesse Morris and Emily Pincow, law clerk Chris Lewarne, and paralegals Elizabeth McConville and Kacey Carter.




Wall Street Journal
Judge Orders Hotel Shelters to Stay Open
Ruling Blocks City From Ending Program to Aid Sandy Victims
May 15, 2013
By Josh Dawsey

Hundreds of people displaced by superstorm Sandy who are living in city-paid hotel rooms won't be forced to leave by the end of the month after a ruling Wednesday by a state supreme court justice.

Justice Margaret Chan granted a preliminary injunction prohibiting the city from ending the program and ruled that the 890 remaining evacuees deserved to remain in the hotels past May 31—after which the city had said it wanted them out.

While Justice Chan noted that the city had cited "budgetary concerns" for shutting down the hotel shelters, she wrote that a recently announced federal program is set to provide $9 million in rental assistance for Sandy victims, in addition to a federal Community Development Block Grant that could provide more money.

It would be contrary to the mission of the hotel program to end it "just when the funds became available," Justice Chan wrote. She didn't specify exactly how long the initiative should go on but said victims deserved more than seven months.

The city vowed to appeal the ruling.

Following superstorm Sandy, New York City shifted many people made homeless from emergency shelters to hotels across the city. The city is paying an average daily room rate of $253, and the program's cost has climbed to $60 million, including $15 million for housing-assistance counseling. Forty-five hotels continue to put up Sandy evacuees.

Justice Chan's ruling followed a lawsuit filed in April by five women made homeless by the Oct. 29 storm. They said they had received little assistance and few housing options from unprepared caseworkers. The plaintiffs also argued the city had given inadequate termination notices and failed to advise them of their rights to protest the evictions.

The women were represented by The Legal Aid Society and Weil, Gotshal and Manges, a New York law firm.

"We hope the city will now implement the rental voucher program quickly. We want our clients moved out of the hotels," said Joshua Goldfein, a Legal Aid attorney. "That's all we want."

The city said it disagreed with the court's decision, which could limit the city's ability to "flexibly respond to future tragedies," according to a statement from Christina Hoggan, senior counsel in the city law department.

"The City's Hotel Program aided thousands of families with critical services that were unprecedented in scope. …But the program was never intended to—and cannot—continue indefinitely," Ms. Hoggan said.

City officials also said that the additional housing money from the federal government may not be immediately available to Sandy victims.

The city outlined several other measures its staff had taken to help the displaced find permanent homes. The city got 150 households into private housing paid for by the federal government's Section 8 housing program, and many also into city-operated public housing.

Sahem Abdalla, a Staten Island resident who operated a tutoring service inside her home, now lives in the Ramada Inn on the island. Her home was flooded, and she has been without a place to host her Arabic classes.

Since the storm, Ms. Abdalla said she had looked for apartments but has struggled to find something affordable.

"The agents were not doing anything for us," she said. "We would tell them how to fill out the papers. They didn't know anything."

The city is hoping the Federal Emergency Management Agency will reimburse it for the money it has spent on the hotel shelter, but a city attorney said in court Monday there was no guarantee reimbursement money would come.

A similar FEMA hotel program is scheduled to end May 29.

Before the lawsuit was filed, the city said it would end the hotel-shelter program for some victims on April 30.

But Justice Chan issued a temporary restraining order on April 29, triggering a hearing Monday in Manhattan at which oral arguments were heard.

 

The New York Times
May 15, 2013
Judge Orders Extension of Hotel Program for Hurricane Sandy Evacuees
By Mireya Navarro

It has been nearly seven months since Hurricane Sandy struck, but a state court judge ruled on Wednesday that New York City cannot end its hotel program for evacuees just yet.

The ruling provides a reprieve for about 900 people in 375 displaced households across the city who remain in 45 hotels. New York City officials had set a May 31 deadline for ending hotel accommodations, saying that most of the residents already had plans to move into new homes.

Officials said they had exhausted efforts to find permanent housing for a hard-to-place group of 156 households. Advocates for storm victims argued that many of them were in danger of being tossed onto the streets or into homeless shelters if the hotel program ended.

In her written decision, Justice Margaret A. Chan questioned the city’s timing and said that it “does not seem reasonable” to end the hotel program just as New York is getting approximately $1.8 billion in federal storm recovery aid. The amount includes $9 million for rental subsidies for up to 24 months, intended mostly for low-income residents and people at risk of homelessness.

The city said it would appeal the decision.

“We recognize the enormous challenges that people have faced following Hurricane Sandy,” Christina Hoggan, a senior counsel with the city’s Law Department, said in a written statement. “But the program was never intended to — and cannot — continue indefinitely.”

She said the court’s decision “will limit the city’s ability to flexibly respond to future tragedies.”

The city placed more than 3,100 people in hotels after the storm as it sought to keep them out of shelters. Most of the evacuees were able to eventually return to repaired homes or secure moves into public housing apartments or other permanent housing. But many others were too poor, with no home to return to and not enough income to qualify for available apartments.

Speaking at a City Council hearing in late April, the commissioner of homeless services, Seth Diamond, said that the hard-to-place evacuees had either rejected the housing options offered to them or had criminal records, insufficient income and other issues that make them ineligible for the available housing. He imposed an April 30 deadline for them to move out of the hotels, which was later extended after the Legal Aid Society sued the city to prevent the evictions.

Judith Goldiner, who handled the case for the organization, said the city must now speed up the distribution of rental vouchers to assist all the evacuees in securing a home. “In a couple of months everyone could be out of the hotels,” she said.

The hotel program has cost more than $60 million so far but the city expects to be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for most of the expense.




Ruling Blocks City From Ending Sandy Hotel Program
By Andrew Keshner
New York Law Journal
05-16-2013

A judge has blocked New York City from ending a temporary program putting up Hurricane Sandy evacuees in hotels while they find permanent housing. As city officials prepared to terminate the program at the end of this month, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Margaret Chan (See Profile) issued a preliminary injunction in Sapp v. City of New York, 450677-2013, holding that while plaintiffs did not have a property interest in an indefinite stay under the program, they did have such an interest in receiving the housing benefits for more than seven months.

"The hotel program was created to automatically provide assistance to all Sandy evacuees. This creates a reasonable expectation of the benefit of housing assistance in these evacuees. But, does that reasonable expectation rise to the level of a constitutionally protected property interest? The answer is yes, it does," Chan wrote yesterday. As of May 13, there were 395 households remaining in the program but 156 households had no transition plans.

Judith Goldiner, attorney in charge of the Legal Aid Society's civil law reform unit, was co-counsel for the plaintiffs with Konrad Cailteux, a partner at Weil, Gotshal & Manges, who appeared pro bono. "We're pleased the judge decided that vulnerable Sandy evacuees already evicted from the storm would not once again be evicted from a hotel where they were living for the last seven months," said Goldiner, adding the ruling would give plaintiffs more time to find permanent housing.

Christina Hoggan, senior counsel of the city's Law Department's administrative law division said in a statement, "We recognize the enormous challenges that people have faced following Hurricane Sandy. The city's Hotel Program aided thousands of families with critical services that were unprecedented in scope, costing more than $60 million over six months. But the program was never intended to—and cannot—continue indefinitely. We disagree with the court's decision, which will limit the city's ability to flexibly respond to future tragedies, and will file an appeal to appropriately conclude this temporary program."




NYC must keep paying for hotels for Sandy evacuees: judge
5/15/2013
By Daniel Wiessner

ALBANY, N.Y. (Reuters) - New York City must continue paying for hotel rooms for hundreds of households displaced by superstorm Sandy, a judge ruled Wednesday, rejecting the city's claim that the program was too costly.

Acting Supreme Court Justice Margaret Chan said the city must provide hotel rooms for New Yorkers who remained in the program until they find permanent housing. The city said 375 households were still living in hotels, down from more than 900, and that it had already spent $60 million on the rooms.

Chan found that the evacuees had a constitutionally protected property interest in the program, because the city had led them to believe that they would receive assistance until they found permanent housing.

She also rejected the city's claim that it could not afford to continue the program, citing a new federal grant designed to help those displaced by Sandy.

"To terminate the hotel program just when the (federal) funding became available does not seem reasonable," Chan wrote.

She issued a preliminary injunction barring the city from ending the program on May 31, as it had planned to do.

Christina Hoggan, senior counsel with the New York City Law Department, said in a statement that the city could no longer afford the program and would appeal.

"The program was never intended to - and cannot - continue indefinitely," she said.

The city had planned to end the program for 196 of the participating households on April 30. A putative class action was filed on behalf of all 488 households still in the program at the time, accusing the city of failing to provide adequate options before seeking to terminate the funding.

Chan on May 1 issued a temporary restraining order preventing the termination of the program, which expired on Wednesday.

JUDGE REJECTS CITY CLAIM

At two court hearings this month, the city argued that no funding was available to continue the program.

Chan on Wednesday rejected that claim, pointing to the federal grant, as well as $9 million in funding for rental assistance programs. She also noted that the city has asked FEMA to reimburse it for the cost of the hotel rooms. That application is pending.

While Chan denied class certification, her ruling extended beyond the proposed class to all households remaining in the program.

Judith Goldiner of the Legal Aid Society, who represented the displaced residents, said the decision would give her clients time to find permanent housing and could spur the city to expedite a program slated to begin in September that will provide rental vouchers for Sandy evacuees.

Many of the displaced families have young children and some of the evacuees are mentally disabled, Goldiner said.

The city's program is separate from a FEMA-funded effort that also pays for hotel rooms for displaced residents. In New York, that program had 114 evacuees remaining as of May 1, down from a peak of 1,070 in January, according to the city.

The FEMA program, which had been scheduled to close at the end of April, was extended until May 29.

The case is Sapp v. City of New York, New York State Supreme Court, New York County, No. 450677/2013.

For the plaintiffs: Judith Goldiner, Joshua Goldfein, Cristina Schrum-Herrara, Young Lee and Tashi Lhewa of the Legal Aid Society; Konrad Cailteux of Weil, Gotshal & Manges.




Law360
NYC Ordered To Extend Sandy Hotel Aid Program
By Kaitlin Ugolik

Law360, New York (May 15, 2013, 4:26 PM ET) -- A New York state judge on Wednesday ordered New York City to extend housing assistance to certain residents rendered homeless by Superstorm Sandy past a planned end date of May 31, saying the city failed to properly inform the victims that it would soon stop paying for their hotels.

Justice Margaret A. Chan ruled that while the plaintiffs did not have a property interest in the hotel program to pay for their stays indefinitely, they do have a property interest in receiving housing benefits for longer than seven months, entitling them to due process that they did not receive. Instead, the city and its Department of Homeless Services sent inadequate notices to 119 of the 395 households still relying on the hotel program, failing to explain why they would be cut off and directing them to speak with ineffective caseworkers, according to the decision.

“Considering that the program was the source of the evacuee's housing needs, the termination of the program should apprise them of the reason for its termination and direct them to the alternative sources.” the judge said.

The city created the hotel program in the aftermath of Sandy to assist those whose homes had been destroyed by the storm. It has paid for 1,260 households representing 3,132 individuals to live in hotels while case managers helped to find them new housing.

The named plaintiffs — Alyce Sapp, Leslie Brown, Sahem Abdalla, Shaniquia Stokley and Doretha Dillahunt — represent a group of residents who are not eligible for housing alternatives such as Section 8 affordable housing, and claim their case workers have been unhelpful in offering alternatives. When they received notice last month that the city would stop paying for their hotel rooms because of budgetary concerns at the end of April — later pushed back to the end of May — they argued that they did not know where to turn and were not given the opportunity for meaningful review.

While Judge Chan rejected the argument that the DHS made representations leading them to believe the plaintiffs could remain in the hotel program indefinitely, she agreed that the city's coordination with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Federal Emergency Management Agency and its receipt of funds for use after May 31 gave the plaintiffs a right to believe they would remain in the hotel program through the end of May.

Specifically, the judge pointed to post-Sandy housing recovery director Brad Gair's statements to the City Council last year that rehousing those displaced by the storm would likely take 18 to 24 months.

“Considering the extensive efforts expended in obtaining these funds to assist defendants with their HRO and hotel program goals, the recipients of those benefits would have a property interest in a program to find a more permanent housing solution, which apparently, but not surprisingly, takes longer than seven months to accomplish,” Judge Chan said.

Konrad Cailteux of Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told Law360 on Wednesday that his clients were grateful for the decision.

“We just hope now that with this decision in place the city will continue to work to place all of our clients in permanent housing so they can resume their lives,” he said.

But Christina Hoggan, senior counsel with the NYC Law Department, said in a statement that the decision will limit the city's ability to appropriately respond to future disasters.

“We recognize the enormous challenges that people have faced following Hurricane Sandy … but the program was never intended to — and cannot — continue indefinitely,” Hoggan said. “[We] will file an appeal to appropriately conclude this temporary program.”

The plaintiffs are represented by Konrad Cailteux, Isabella C. Lacayo, Jesse L. Morris and Emily L. Pincow of Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP and Steven Banks, Adriene Holder, Judith Goldiner, Joshua Goldfein, Young Lee and Tashi Lhewa of the Legal Aid Society.

The case is Sapp et al. v. The City of New York et al., case number 450677-2013, in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of New York.