Temporary Restraining Order Prevents City From Stopping April Advantage Rent Subsidies For 15,000 Current Advantage Recipients
THURSDAY, MARCH 31, 2011

New York County Supreme Court Justice Judith J. Gische issued a temporary restraining order late Monday preventing the City from terminating Advantage rent subsidy payments due in April for 15,000 formerly homeless families and individuals. The Legal Aid Society and the law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manages LLP filed a class action lawsuit on Monday seeking a class-wide injunction to prevent the City from stopping Advantage rent subsidies for these 15,000 formerly homeless households before their Advantage subsidy agreements expire.

Steven Banks, Attorney-in-Charge of The Legal Aid Society, told the New York Law Journal that "moving forward with rent cut offs for 15,000 households would wreak havoc with the shelter [system], overwhelm the housing court and cost millions of dollars in the long run in increased shelter placements." He said the affected families and individuals "would never have moved into these apartments that they can't afford without these subsidies."

Steven Banks, Judith Goldiner, Jane Sujen Bock, and Joshua Goldfein are handling the case for The Legal Aid Society with paralegal support provided by Christina Schrum-Herrera. Representing the plaintiffs from Weil, Gotshal are Konrad Cailteux, Debra Dandeneau, Isabella Lacayo, Jesse Morris, and Adam Lavine, together with paralegal Elizabeth McConville.



The New York Law Journal
TRO Preserves Rent Subsidies From City's Budget Cuts
By Noeleen G. Walder
03-30-2011

The Legal Aid Society has won a bid to temporarily block New York City from ending a program that provides rent subsidies to thousands of formerly homeless households.

Faced with state budget cuts, the city announced that starting April 1, it would no longer offer the Advantage subsidies, which help homeless people living in emergency shelters get back on their feet by paying a chunk of their rent for up to two years.

Earlier this week, Legal Aid filed court papers in Manhattan Supreme Court on behalf of two families and a proposed class of 15,000 Advantage recipients seeking to enjoin the city from discontinuing the program.

Legal Aid says the city's obligation to recipients of the subsidies is in no way conditional on its financial condition or the availability of state and federal funding.

Without the program in place, 15,000 formerly homeless families "will face eviction" and the city's "shelter system will be overwhelmed," according to the papers in Zheng v. City of New York, 400806/11.

Read Legal Aid's filing.

On Monday, Supreme Court Justice Judith J. Gische issued a temporary restraining order barring the city from terminating the "subsidy payments to the current Advantage Tenants' landlords until the expiration of the Tenants' Advantage Agreements or further court order."

Read Justice Gische's order.

The judge ordered the parties to appear on April 21 for a hearing on a preliminary injunction.

In a statement, Seth Diamond, commissioner of the city's Department of Homeless Services, said he was "disappointed" by the court's ruling.

"The Governor's executive budget eliminated all state and federal funding for Advantage and left the City with no choice but to end the program. In a very difficult budget environment, the action taken today will cost the city $10 million more than had Advantage continued with the state's partnership —and may force the city to pay millions more if this legal action goes forward," he said.

But Steven Banks, attorney-in-chief of Legal Aid said that irrespective of claims of financial difficulties, "moving forward with rent cut offs for 15,000 households would wreak havoc with the shelter [system], overwhelm the housing court and cost millions of dollars in the long run in increased shelter placements."

He said the affected families and individuals "would never have moved into these apartments that they can't afford without these subsidies."

Mr. Banks added that the budget agreement struck Monday in Albany restored $15 million in funds that the city could use for homeless programs.

Justice Gische's ruling comes less than two weeks after Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo complained at a City Council budget hearing about the costs and delays caused by temporary restraining orders that remain in place for months or in some cases more than a year. When judges do not require plaintiffs to post a bond, the city cannot recoup the money it loses as a result of these orders (NYLJ, March 17).

Mr. Cardozo told the New York Law Journal at the time that the city would propose legislation to bring the CPLR provisions on temporary restraining orders and injunctions in line with the federal rules. In the federal system, a movant must post a bond before a TRO is issued and the order lasts only 14 days unless the court finds good cause to extend the period.

Created in April 2007, the Advantage program offers up to two years in rent subsidies to certain families transitioning from emergency shelters to permanent homes. The subsidies "promote employment and foster self-sufficiency, so that households can return to independent living," according to the department of homeless services' website.

On March 17, the city notified Advantage recipients that it would end the subsidies on April 1.

According to Legal Aid's brief, the city and department of homeless services signed "binding agreements" with tenants who participate in the program and their landlords.

On March 24, Commissioner Diamond testified that the elimination of the program would mean the city would have to build at least 70 new homeless shelters.

Currently, the city is required to provide shelters to homeless families with children and to homeless adult women and men.

"When they are relegated back to the shelter system, Advantage Tenants are at risk of losing their jobs and their children's education is likely to be disrupted as a result of the upheaval," according to Legal Aid's brief.

Patrick Markee, a senior policy analyst with the Coalition for the Homeless, which represents one of the plaintiffs, said in an interview he was "extraordinarily happy to hear…that current Advantage tenants" who had been "irresponsibly threatened" with termination of their subsidies would continue to receive the benefits they had been promised.

However, he added that the Advantage program, which is limited to two years, is "deeply flawed" and said the city has "much better options" at its disposal to combat homelessness.

Deborah Dandeneau was the lead attorney for Weil, Gotshal & Manages, which served as co-counsel to Legal Aid.


March 31, 2011
Court rules city must pay April's rent for 15,000 households under Work Advantage subsidy
BY Tina Moore
Daily News Staff Writer

The city has been ordered to pay April's rent for 15,000 formerly homeless families in a rental assistance program that Mayor Bloomberg said must end because of state budget cuts.

The Legal Aid Society of New York won a one-month reprieve on the Work Advantage subsidy while the case is argued in a Manhattan court.

A hearing has been set for April 21. It's unclear what will happen to the families in May if the judge does not issue a ruling at the hearing.

"What do they think everybody's going to do, go back to the street?" Work Advantage recipient Kimbline Hunter, 42, asked.

The $200 million, two-year city, state and federal program aims to move families from shelters to permanent housing.

Gov. Cuomo's budget eliminates half the program's dollars, leaving the city to make up the difference.

Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Seth Diamond called the judge's Monday ruling a disappointment.

"The governor's executive budget eliminated all state and federal funding for Advantage and left the city with no choice but to end the program," he said, adding that April's rent alone would cost the city $10 million.

Steven Banks, chief lawyer for the Legal Aid Society, said the respite will protect families with Work Advantage leases.

"Whatever costs are being paid to keep 15,000 households from facing eviction and homelessness in ... April pale in comparison to the cost of having to provide shelter to 15,000 additional households," Banks said.

City Councilwoman Annabel Palma, head of the Council's General Welfare Committee, said there were "more questions than answers at this point."

Hunter, who has been in and out of work, fears she'll be evicted from her Crown Heights, Brooklyn, apartment when her landlord stops getting his $912-a-month subsidy.

"He'll get his April rent," Hunter said, "but what happens after that?"