Domestic Employers Honored at Care Heroes Awards

By Jean Brannum |

Care Forward, among other organizations, honored outstanding employers of caregivers in Carroll Gardens on June 11.

Nannies, in-home caregivers, and housekeepers could nominate their employers for a Care Hero award. The awards highlight employers who have gone above and beyond to honor the legal rights of domestic workers and create a good work environment.

Care Forward is an organization that is part of the Carroll Gardens Association and includes other organizations such as Hand In Hand and We Rise. The organization unifies domestic workers and advocates for their fair treatment. The initiative was launched after the implementation of Intro 339, a law that gives domestic workers human rights protections.

Intro 339 was implemented in March 2022 and protects domestic workers against harassment, inquiries into salary and credit history, and discrimination. Previously, worker protection laws excluded domestic workers. Zhara Baksh, the city’s organizer for Hand in Hand said that this was due to a history of domestic workers being predominantly black, and because many slaves fulfilled these duties before the civil war.

Baksh’s points are echoed in a PBS interview with Kaitlyn Henderson from Oxfam, a global organization that fights poverty and injustice. Henderson pointed out that black people were excluded from labor protection laws under Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s.

New York was the first state to have a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, which mandates sick leave and overtime pay among other rights.

Donna Schneiderman hired a nanny and a house cleaner to help with her household needs. She quickly recognized that her home was a workplace and wanted to hold herself to the same standards as employers at other companies. However, she had no idea how to do that and realized that at the time domestic workers were not entitled to many employee rights.

A timeline of the domestic worker’s rights movement.

“We benefit when there are standards in place,” Schneiderman said.

Schneiderman got involved in the Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, which later joined Hand in Hand. She continues to advocate for better protections.

Arianna Schindle, director of training and curriculum design at the Worker Institute of Cornell, started as a nanny for six children. She said she was sexually harassed while working for them and did not know her rights as a worker. Now she helps domestic workers by teaching them their rights as an employee, and advocates for employers to use contracts. A new goal of Care Forward is for the majority of domestic workers to have contracts.

Another nanny trainer, Doris Tapia, who also works for the Worker Institute, teaches caregivers about negotiating their salaries and the wages they are entitled to. She said that some of her clients realized through her classes that they were not being paid enough.

Doris Tapia receives an award for her work in training domestic workers to understand their rights and to negotiate with their employers.

Domestic workers nominated employers who not only upheld the legal protections but provided more.

Marguerita Aristide, a nanny, nominated her employer, Julia Finegan, for using a “strong contract” during her five-year employment and for being more than a boss. Aristide said that Finegan will provide ample time off if she is sick.  Aristide joked that Finegan can even tell when she is sick before she knows.

“I don’t have to be afraid of asking for a day off,” Aristide said. She also said that it was important for her to know her rights as a caregiver.

Finegan said that Aristide had instant chemistry with her family. Her child was three years old at the time and she was expecting her second.

Another nanny named Claudette honored her employer, Caroline Prestone, for continuing to pay her and allow time off while her husband was in the hospital and after his death.

Other non-employers also won awards, such as children’s entertainer Hopalong Andrew.

New Jersey passed a similar domestic worker’s rights law on July 1. Other states have passed similar laws. An introduced Senate bill, if signed into law, will make the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights a federal law.


Neighborhood Church Hosts Fundraising Event, Starts Wall Repairs


By Jean Brannum |

Participants wrote on the soon-to-be-restored walls of the church. Courtesy of Pastor Katrina Foster

The writing is on the walls, St John’s Lutheran Church is getting much-needed wall repairs through funding from its members and community. 

The “Sinners Repaint” event, which included performances by local musicians and an activity where attendees could write on the walls, happened on June 29. The event raised money to get rid of lead paint in the 157-year-old church and repaint the walls. Pastor Katrina Foster said that the council is finalizing the color choice, which will be a shade of blue to go with the permanent fixtures, such as the stained glass window depicting the “lynching of Jesus.”

Foster said that the church was able to make the first $77,000 payment for the repairs, and is raising the rest of the money through pledges and donations. The church has a fundraising goal of $235.000.  

Local band Marvele Oaks performed. The band comprises husband and wife duo Tess and Alex Demir, who are long-time members of the church. Tess Demir is treasurer of the church council. Another guitar performance filled the church with the song “Oh Lord.”

The most popular activity was writing on the soon-to-be-transformed walls. Attendants could get a marker and write or draw what they pleased. Foster said the kids “had a blast.” 

Foster noted that the average age of the congregation is thirty-five. She said that the church has attracted many young people since she arrived in 2015. However, there are still many longtime members, even one who has known St. John’s her whole life.

Longtime church member Ruth writes on the walls. Foster and others jokingly called Ruth a “graffiti gangster for Christ.” Courtesy of Pastor Foster. 

Ruth, a 98-year-old woman who was baptized at St. John’s wrote “Pillars of Faith” on one of the poles in the building. The Pastor visits her regularly in Sunnyside. Ruth used to travel to the church by rowboat across the Newtown Creek, Foster said. 

Maintenance has started on the church and the St. John’s congregation is temporarily sharing space with Ascension Episcopal church at 127 Kent St. The Worship service is noon for the next three months while the repairs are underway. The Ascension Episcopal church previously had a large-scale renovation where its congregation used St John’s space for about nine months.

In a previous Greenpoint Star interview, Foster discussed how the chipped walls hurt evangelization efforts. Many people discover the church while on a neighborhood stroll. “Evangelism is a Greek word, and it means to tell good news and invite,” Foster said. “So when you walk in here and you look at this, you think, ‘Ah, this congregation,  are they still open?’”

Foster fashioned a makeshift office in the worship space to greet visitors, an alternative to her previous office in the basement where she said she was hidden from passers-by.

While the repairs are much needed to make the church safe and restored to its previous beauty, Foster is eager to get back and resume the Saturday meals and ministries, such as the Boy Scout meetings. 

“We want nothing more than to get back in there and to get everything up and running again so that we can love Jesus by serving our neighbors,” Foster said.

Donations can be made on the church website at through Donately or GoFundMe. Foster mentioned that donations are tax-deductible. 

Financing Secured for Second Phase of Kingsland Commons


By Jean Brannum |

St. Nicks Alliance, Hudson Companies, and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development have secured $235 million in financing for the second phase of Kingsland Commons development, a renovation of the defunct Greenpoint Hospital campus. 

This phase is the construction of an 18-story building with 311 affordable homes from studio to three-bedroom units. Ninety-three homes will be set aside for formerly homeless people. In addition to the homes, the building will also have a children’s playroom, fitness center, and outdoor courtyard. The complex has apartments for individuals and families earning between 30 and 80 percent of the area median income. 

The project is expected to begin in the next month and be completed by April 2027, according to Ernesto Padron, Development Director of Hudson Companies. 

Frank Lang, Deputy Executive Director of Housing for St. Nicks Alliance, said that the design to revamp the land was created in conjunction with local residents and community groups including the Greenpoint Renaissance Enterprise Corp. Lang also said that Hudson Companies and St. Nicks Alliance hope the project exceeds the needs of the community. 

The project comprises four sites for renovation and construction. The first phase was a complete overhaul of the old nurse’s residence into a brand-new 200-bed men’s shelter. This phase is expected to be completed in 2025, and Project Renewal will operate the shelter. In partnership with the state Historic Preservation Office, builders preserved the original facade of the building. 

The next two phases involve constructing two new buildings with approximately 557 affordable homes. The new campus will include space for a health clinic and a senior center, among other service facilities. 

Padron said that HPD approved the project in 2018 after receiving multiple proposals for the old campus. He said the project was “very special” since the company gets to revamp an entire campus that was abandoned in 1982.

 NYC Commissioner Adolfo Carrión Jr. of Housing Preservation and Development congratulated the St. Nicks and Hudson Companies on the milestone. 

“We are investing in the housing our city needs by repurposing precious space to provide affordable homes for hundreds of New Yorkers,” Carrión said. “Three hundred eleven families will call Kingsland Commons home and generations will benefit from growing up with housing security,”

Lutheran Church to Host Fundraiser for New Paint Job


By Jean Brannum |

St. John’s Lutheran Church on Milton St was built in 1867 and has escaped a closure scare. The “bones” of the building have been repaired, but the place is in desperate need of a paint job. 

The walls around the stained glass and acoustic organ are littered with paint chips and tears. The staircase leading to the choir area is dusted with parts of the wall. Pastor Foster, who has managed many repairs already, explained that there were offers from film companies to use the space as a set, but could not use the space due to lead in the current paint.

Foster said the paint chips can deter potential new members. Credit: Jean Brannum

When Foster arrived at St John’s, the church needed many repairs and updates. Due to low funds, she had to prioritize. 

“We had to deal with everything that was going to catch fire, flood, or collapse,” Foster said. 

Foster first repaired the plumbing, refurbished the bathrooms, and updated the electrical system. Many of the repairs are not seen by passers-by but are needed to keep the water running and the lights on. The structure has also been fixed so the building is stable. 

Besides Foster-lead repairs, some members of the Boy Scout troops that meet in the church have stepped up to make some refurbishments. Jack Bonner, 16, made repairing the garden beds his Eagle Scout project. 

Bonner fundraised to pay to repair and restore the beds with flowers. He fundraised the project with donations. His biggest challenge was getting enough compost for the beds. But ultimately, he was happy with the result, especially when the flowers bloomed. The process took about one month. 

“The whole process is very long, but it’s rewarding,” Bonner said. “Everyone from the community comes together, which is a really good thing”

However, the paint-chipping on the inside is visible everywhere, and while the church has grown in membership since Foster arrived, the look can deter people. She also said some parents would be concerned about the lead paint chipping. 

“Evangelism is a Greek word, and it means to tell good news and invite,” Foster said. “So when you walk in here and you look at this, you think, ‘Ah, this congregation,  are they still open?’”

To repair the walls and cover the paint, Foster needs to raise $233,000. One of the ways she plans to do this is through a fundraiser called “Sinners Repaint.” The event will take place on June 29 at 5 pm. 

The event includes performances by local musicians and non-alcoholic beverages and baked goods for sale. The suggested donation is $50, but Foster encourages people to donate what they can. 

Musicians include Marvelle Oaks, Chelsea Hines, Noelle Tannen, Simon Brown, Citris, and more. 

Tess Demir, part of Marvelle Oaks and assistant scoutmaster for her daughter’s Boy Scouts of America troop, will be performing on stage with her husband, Alex. She said the band was her husband’s “Brain Child.”

Demir said that she and her husband stumbled upon St. John’s in 2015 and admired the old look. After their first service, Foster introduced herself and they have attended and been active members ever since. Demir is also the treasurer of the church council. 

“For me, it’s a little bit more than just fundraising,” Demir said. “It’s also reaching out to people who might want to find a church and not know where to go.”

DA Announces Indictment of 18 Alleged Gang Members Tied to 12 Shootings


By Jean Brannum |

Eighteen men between the ages of 18 and 21 were indicted on murder charges linked to twelve separate shootings that injured ten and killed two around Brooklyn, District Attorney Eric Gonzalez announced May 29

Fifteen of the alleged gunmen were tied to the H-Block/Billy’s gang, which branches from the Bloods gang. Three allegedmembers of Gates Fam and Gotti Gang were also charged with homicide.

15 guns were seized from the 18 alleged gang members. Credit: Jean Brannum


The gangs operate on the borders of Crown Heights and Bed-Stuy. The members were charged with murder, attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and weapons possession. Fifteen firearms were seized in the arrests. Some of those allegedly tied to the shootings were as young as 14 when the crimes were committed.

“As a father of three young boys myself, this is simply appalling and shocking,” Gonzalez said.

The District Attorney showed some of the shootings the men are allegedly tied to.  In August 2021, a man mistaken to be in a rival gang was shot point-blank in the face. He survived, but then the gang members shot and killed 16-year-old Jaquan Gause, who was allegedly part of the Gates Fam gang, and injured three others in two hours.

In Brownsville in June 2022, Nayshawn Campbell, an alleged Woo gang associate was shot. He was also sixteen years old.

Several other gun-related deaths have occurred at the hands of the gang members, and many non-gang-affiliated people have been caught in the crossfire. Gonzalez showed a video of an incident where the gang members fired indiscriminately toward a crowd watching a music video shoot. The videographer was shot in the leg and that was the only bullet to hit a person out of the 30 shots fired. Bullets narrowly missed a baby in a stroller.

In another incident, several gang members fired at a car. Investigators believe the shooters thought the car belonged to a rival gang that was slowing down to kill them. The people in the vehicle turned out to be non-gang-affiliated and were not injured, but there was severe damage to the vehicle, according to the District Attorney.

The Dodge Charger occupied by four people. Two defendants shot at the car. A bullet struck the passenger headrest, but none were injured. Credit: Brooklyn DA

The eighteen were arraigned on May 29 and the 85-count indictment showing various charges between the men was unsealed

Investigators also identified gang affiliates who were not associated with the shootings and referred them to Project Restore Bedstuy, an anti-violence organization that provides job and education opportunities. 

Gonzalez said that there are many causes of young people getting involved in gangs, one of them being social media popularity, which was one source of evidence for the investigation. Deputy Inspector Craig Edelman pointed out that some have gone as far as to incriminate themselves with celebratory posts of crimes. 

Edelman also pushed the public to come forward with any information related to gang activity in the borough. 

Gonzalez used the announcement to give an imminent warning to young people in gangs ahead of the Summer months when gun violence tends to trend upwards. 

“This is our approach here in Brooklyn, We’re gonna go hard on you if you dare fire a weapon in our communities, and we’re going to build these strong cases against you, and we’re going to send you to prison.”

Gun violence was the lowest in Brooklyn last year, according to Gonzalez. The latest CompStat for North Brooklyn shows a 5% decrease in shooting reports. South Brooklyn shows a 30% decrease in shooting incident reports since May 2023


Who Has the Most Diabolical Evil Laugh in Greenpoint?


By Jean Brannum |

There was sweat, drive, and laughs, evil laughs in Greenpoint’s Nighthorse Bar on May 16  for a new kind of competition. 

Mera Caulfield hosts the contest with her friends/roommates. Competitors gathered in Greenpoint for an evil laughing contest.

Roommates Mera Caulfield, Alix Matos, and Megan Mandrachio hosted a tournament to see who had the best evil laugh. Out of 39 contestants, comedian Ena Da took home the grand prizes, which included a T-shirt saying “I Won an Evil Laughing Competition” and homemade cinnamon rolls. 

High-pitched, Low-pitched, old-man-like, and super-short, all laughs were welcome. 

Charlie Flynn wins the first round with an old-man-like evil laugh. Competitors gathered in Greenpoint for an evil laughing contest.

Contestants completed in groups of five. After the whole group laughed, three judges picked a winner for the group. There was one “wild card” round for random members of the audience to enter. Some entrees sent in their laughs by video recording. In the end, the winners of each round showed their laughs once more to be picked, by audience applause, to be the winner. 

Many contestants did more than just laugh or flash an evil grin, some screamed, danced, lit fires, and even shot confetti. Many wore costumes and embodied a character. Many competitors practiced their laughs for days. 

Ian Smith laugh includes the final notes of defying gravity. Competitors gathered in Greenpoint for an evil laughing contest.

Ian Smith, dressed as Elphaba from Wicked, even received a complaint from his neighbor while practicing.

“My neighbors knocked on my door and told me to shut up,” Smith said.

Smooth concluded his laugh with the famous final notes of Defying Gravity while shooting confetti into the air from outstretched arms. 

Mackenzie Thomas shows off her wicked laugh with a fiery finale. Competitors gathered in Greenpoint for an evil laughing contest.

Mackenzie Thomas, dressed as a witch for her laugh, gave a high-pitched evil laugh that included a fiery finale. She lit several small pieces of tissue on fire. 

“My roommates have been enjoying it,” Thomas said, referring to her frequent practice sessions before the contest. 

The venue was packed with spectators in the backroom of Nighthorse. Spectators stood in the back and even on tables. The place was more electrified when it came time to vote for the winner.  The final two contestants faced each other for the final laugh. Comedian Ena Da received thunderous applause. Da heard about the contest that day through social media and messaged one of the hosts to enter. Despite her lack of time to prepare, she took home the gold. 

Ena Da, a last-minute entry, wins the competition. Competitors gathered in Greenpoint for an evil laughing contest.

Caulfield, a comedian,  said she got the idea for the contest after hearing about similar tournaments. She would like to host more competitions, possibly twice a year. 

“That was electric,” Caulfield said. “It was just so much fun to see so many people excited about something.“


Community, Politicians Call on Mayor to Make McGuinness Safe


By Jean Brannum |

Elected officials and community advocates spoke to the press at the intersection of McGuinness Blvd and Calyer St to advocate for a safer McGuinness Blvd after opponents lobbied against the changes.

Council Member Lincoln Restler calls on Mayor Adams to approve the proposed changed to McGuinness Blvd. Credit: Jean Brannum

Speakers addressed reporters in front of several posters with the names of people killed in traffic collisions on McGuinness Blvd. Organization Make McGuinness Safe started advocating for a safer McGuinness Blvd after the death of teacher Matthew Jensen in 2021. However, politicians and communities have fought since at least 2009 to make the road safer noting several collisions and near-misses. 

The organization pushed for several changes to improve pedestrian safety. Mayor Eric Adams initially agreed to the changes verbally, but walked back his agreement in 2023. He instead encouraged the Department of Transportation to work with both opponents and supporters of the plan, according to The CITY. The CITY reported that the campaign against the changes was backed by Broadway Stages owners Gina and Tony Argento. The film company has produced shows such as “Law and Order: SVU” and “Blue Bloods.” The Argentos have donated over $15,000 to Adam’s campaign. 

A modified plan was implemented, which included adding bike lanes on a part of McGuinness in the Summer of 2023. Despite the changes, community members want the bike lanes to extend to Meeker Avenue and for one traffic lane in each direction to be cut to ensure safer pedestrian crossing.

Community members hold up signs of people killed on McGuinness. Credit: Jean Brannum

But not everyone wants the plans the group is advocating for. Many businesses have joined to form the Keep McGuinness Moving organization, which wants to keep the four lanes of traffic and says that removing one lane will cause congestion and destroy local businesses in the industrial zone. The organization supports the safety of everyone who uses the boulevard, according to its website. 

One of the speakers, Bronwyn Breitner, mentioned that owners of the company Broadway Stages lobbied against the changes to Adams’ aide Ingrid Lewis-Martin, which reportedly caused Adams to walk back on his promise. 

A petition recently collected 10,000 signatures. Local City Council Member Lincoln Restler called on Adams to honor the demands of the residents who signed the petition, after Restler said there were rumors the mayor would never approve the changes.  

“I want him to know that if he fails our community, if he fails to make Greenpoint safer, we are going to keep organizing until we win.”

At the conference, several members of the community shared their safety concerns with the current state of McGuinness Blvd. 

Local resident Jordana Jacobs tells the story of narrowly avoiding a collision with a truck while crossing McGuinness with her son. Credit: Jean Brannum

Jordana Jacobs used to let her son walk to many places by himself, except places where he had to cross McGuinness Blvd. She discussed with her son several times how the street was not safe and one had to be hyper-vigilant to cross. 

She was about to cross McGuinness with her eleven-year-old one day when a truck nearly hit them. The walk sign was on, but Jacobs and her son knew the truck was not going to stop as it came barreling toward them with no sign of slowing down. Since then, Jacobs said her son does not feel safe walking around outside by himself. 

“My son was shaking. His entire body was shaking. Since then, my kid, who has always had a pretty healthy sense of independence, does not feel comfortable crossing streets by himself”

State Assemblymember for Greenpoint, Emily Gallagher, used to live next to McGuinness. She told stories of the injuries and deaths she witnessed outside her apartment. 

“I watched people get hit by cars,” Gallagher said. “I wiped up blood from the street. I brought my own dish towels out to hold against elders’ heads who got in a car crash right on this very intersection.” 

Jeanine Ballone, who has lived in the area her whole life, has helped several elderly people cross the street by stopping traffic on both sides. She has witnessed several cars be hit, and cars ride through stop lights.

 As someone who has seen many changes in the area, she said that something needs to be done to accommodate the new development. Saying that the area cannot accommodate the new growth and influx of outside traffic that speeds down the boulevard. 

Many residents and politicians at the conference pledged to keep advocating for a safer McGuinness. The Mayor’s office said the following in an emailed statement: 

“Traffic safety is public safety, and the Adams administration remains committed to making McGuinness Boulevard safer for all road users, whether walking, biking, or driving. Throughout this project, we have listened to community members about their needs and updated our design accordingly, and we will continue to weigh the needs of all area stakeholders as we continue to work on safety improvements.”

The DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez said in another emailed statement, “Traffic safety is a key priority for Mayor Adams, and we are delivering a redesign of McGuinness Boulevard that will make this corridor safer for everyone. Too many New Yorkers have been injured or lost their lives on McGuinness Boulevard, and working with the community we will continue to make significant safety improvements.” 

According to the DOT, construction resumed last week to improve conditions on McGuinness Blvd and add speed limit enforcement equipment. The DOT also said that it added traffic counting equipment to analyze traffic volume changes since last winter in addition to data collected in 2021.

Rent prices continue to rise in Brooklyn, reports say


By Jean Brannum |

Real estate reports show that rent in the city continues to increase with little end in sight, and the number of apartments available is decreasing ahead of the busy summer moving season. 

In Brooklyn, the median rental price for April rose about four percent in the last month, according to a Douglas Elliman report. This increase was slightly less than Manhattan, which rose 4.2 percent in April. 

Molly Franklin, a real estate agent for The Corcoran Group, said that while the Brooklyn market has always been hot, the number of affordable units, especially in Greenpoint, is dwindling. 

“Brooklyn isn’t an affordable borough anymore,” Franklin said. 

The Corcoran Group released a report with similar findings. According to its report, rent in Brooklyn increased ten percent since April 2023. One and two-bedroom apartments increased by over ten percent in the last year. 

Real estate agents are noticing more competition for places. While April is typically busy, this year’s market shows uniquely high competition. 

“I like to call it the Hunger Games,” Elina Golovko said, referring to the fierce competition for places in the summer months. Between new people moving to the city for jobs or school, and people looking to upgrade or downgrade within the city, there are so many people looking and fewer units available. Golovko is a real estate agent for Elliman. 

And she does not see it improving in time for summer, or even in the slower fall and winter months. 

Golovko said that the decrease in inventory has led to tense bidding wars between buyers and sellers. She has seen apartments rent for twenty to thirty percent over the asking price because the area is in high demand. She also noticed that more people are renting to move in up to 90 days in advance, the average earlier was up to 45. 

Jonathan Miller, president of appraisal and consulting firm Miller Samuel who created the Elliman report, said that since mortgage rates in April were the highest they have ever been, would-be home buyers are “camping” in the rental market. This increases competition for everyone looking for a place to rent. Those wanting to buy a home also have to afford a down payment and interest, which drives more people to rent, according to Golovko. 

“High mortgage rates are not the friend of would-be homebuyers, but they’re also not the friend of renters,” Miller said. “Higher rates push more people from the sales market to the rental market and the economy.”

Surprisingly, average rent in Northern Queens, which includes Astoria, Long Island City, Sunnyside, and Woodside decreased slightly. Miller suspects that it is due to the expectation that prices will be lower. The number of units has remained steady in the area. 

But even though rent prices are declining in the area, many units rented for about 20 percent over the asking price, indicating another area for tight bidding wars, according to Miller. 

Miller clarified that he can only make educated guesses for the future, but he does not see rent prices declining or more home buying in the next season. As long as mortgage rates are high, more people are likely to stay in the rental market. 

“It’s become clear that we’re not expecting mortgage or interest rate cuts, imminently, as was the thinking just a month ago,” Miller said. 

For those looking to rent or buy, the realtors shared some helpful tips. 

Start early, Golovko said. Due to the competition, starting earlier and creating a game plan will allow you the best chances of finding a place by the time you need to move. The summer rush is starting now. She also advises looking specifically for apartments available on your start date. 

Before you start searching, get documents ready and find a realtor. Co-op units usually have a longer approval process, while rental properties have the fastest. 

Franklin advises her clients to keep an open mind when looking for a place. Don’t be afraid to look into areas you never thought about, or consider moving to commuter cities if you work from home or don’t commute to the city daily. 

Franklin had two clients, a couple, who were dead set on living in Astoria. She found a place for them in Jackson Heights, and they were happy with their choice to live in a spacious apartment in the neighborhood. 

If you want to stay in an area with higher rent prices, be ready to downgrade or live with a roommate. 

Overall, Franklin emphasized that a “strong stomach and an open mind” will make the process survivable. 

ODTA and NYCHA Sued for Discrimination and Deprioritizing Residents For Pandemic Rent Assistance

By Jean

The Fordham Law Clinic filed a lawsuit on April 30 against the New York City Housing Authority and the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance due to its deprioritization of Emergency Rental Assistance Program funds for people in subsidized housing.

The complaint alleges that even though federal guidelines made many NYCHA residents eligible for Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) funds, tenants were left with pending requests for two years or told they were not eligible due to being in subsidized housing. In addition, NYCHA did not reevaluate the income of families who lost jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“You could either apply and be put at the back of the line, or you were discouraged from applying at all at the point where the money was dwindling,” said housing advocate and Fordham Professor Norrinda Brown. 

According to the complaint, the ODTA was in charge of distributing ERAP funds to people who were having difficulties paying rent after pandemic-related job loss. The ODTA was supposed to help people regardless of whether they were in subsidized housing or not. 

Danielle Johnson, who lived at Astoria Houses in Queens and is one of the plaintiffs, met the federal eligibility criteria for ERAP.  She was laid off from her role as a medical biller during the pandemic. The widow was the only source of income for the unit she shared with her son.  She was allegedly discouraged from applying and never told she was eligible, according to the complaint.

ERAP applications opened in June 2021 and most of the funds were committed by October 2021. Brown said that while the amount of money was significant, there was not enough left for those receiving housing assistance. 

“It was no surprise that the money would run out, and the money did run out before subsidized tenants could receive any aid,” Brown said

Out of the 39,000 applicants for ERAP from NYCHA housing, only 15,000 were approved as of April 2024, the complaint says. 

The lawsuit also alleges that the ODTA’s and NYCHA’s prejudice was a violation of the state’s lawful source of income protection. The lawful source of income protection means that people in New York cannot be discriminated against due to receiving government assistance, including housing assistance. 

People can also not be discriminated against due to race, which is another part of the suit. 

As of February 2023, rental data says 44 percent of NYCHA tenants are black and 45 percent Hispanic. Brown said that since most residents affected by the deprioritization of ERAP were of this demographic, this is grounds for racial discrimination. 

“If what happened was that NYCHA and the state had said, all black people will have to wait until whites and others are paid, and if there’s any money left, your hardship can be considered,” Brown said. ” We all have a gut reaction to that and realize that that was illegal and against the law.”

Tenants Were Expected to Pay Rent Based on Income They No Longer Had

In addition to being denied assistance available to everyone else, the complaint alleges that NYCHA did not adjust the rent for many residents who lost their jobs due to pandemic layoffs. 

According to the NYCHA FAQ page, rent for residents is adjusted based on income to no more than 30 percent of gross income. If someone is unemployed, then the rent should be adjusted to zero. The rent adjustment is supposed to be adjusted by the first of the month after the income change if the resident reports the change within 30 days, the NYCHA website says. 

Plaintiff Wanda Baez was a teacher but her school ceased operations during the pandemic. She applied for ERAP but was deemed ineligible to apply due to her living in a NYCHA residence. During this time she experienced illness and her sister died from COVID-19. She applied in August of 2021 not knowing that her application would remain pending until this day. 

On top of that, NYCHA left her responsible for her rent based on a $55,000 annual income, which was no longer the case after she lost her job. She emailed NYCHA twice about her application for rental assistance. The lack of communication and income readjustment left Baez “alarmed, confused, and helpless.”

She eventually heard back from NYCHA but in the form of a consumer debt lawsuit for not paying the rent adjusted to her not-ceased income source. Her case is pending and proceeding to mediation according to court filings in February. She owes over $46,000 to NYCHA for her residence in the Bronx from March 2020 to November 2022. 

Johnson also has a consumer debt case against her for the $28,000 she amassed in rent during the pandemic. Like Baez, her case is pending. 

James Rodriguez from the Residents to Preserve Public Housing, an advocacy group and one of the plaintiffs in the case, said that he sees NYCHA “pointing the finger” at residents for many issues they could not help, including unpaid rent and long-needed maintenance. 

Brown also said that NYCHA leaders have blamed residents for unpaid rent when they were ineligible for federal assistance and lost their income source. One of her reasons for filing the class action lawsuit was due to the NYCHA media stories about unpaid rent and debt. 

The State Admitted to This Mistake

A New York State Comptroller’s report from July 2023 said that people in public housing were not prioritized in the rental assistance program. The report acknowledged that many in public housing have not received any funds and that New York was one of the last states to finish distributing funds. 

As a result, the state reportedly provided $356 million in additional funds for ERAP applications existing at the time of its release but said that it may not have been enough to address the high rent burdens affecting residents. 

In June of 2021, the ODTA page for ERAP said that those in public housing would only be considered for assistance after all other applications. This was not consistent with the federal guidelines from the treasury department, which said that public housing residents should be considered along with other applicants. 

The Fight for Justice

The class action lawsuit has only just begun and Brown said that there was a long process ahead, but Rodriguez said that the fight for help has been ongoing to the point that it took time away from other priorities with his organization. 

Brown has filed an injunction to keep ODTA and NYCHA from pursuing evictions and consumer debt cases until after the court reviews the complaint. Meanwhile, Brown said that NYCHA can still recertify income changes and provide retribution for those who fell behind on rent during the pandemic. 

“This whole scheme is sending families further into deep poverty when it could have been handled so so much differently,” Brown said.

NYCHA and the ODTA denied a request for comment citing a policy against commenting on pending litigation.