Policy Matters – August 2023

Eòghann Renfroe August 31, 2023

Welcome to the August edition of our newsletter, Policy Matters. In this edition we cover the release of our new shelter allowance report, letters of support for housing and public benefits bills, the latest from our police reform project, a conference on victims’ services, and upcoming staff recognition. You can also read an archived version of the newsletter here.


No Keys to Safe and Decent Housing

For most New York households that rely on public assistance, housing instability is unavoidable. Safe and habitable rental units in the private rental market simply do not exist at price points that are affordable for households relying on public assistance’s allowance for rent (the “shelter allowance” or “rent allowance”).

The current shelter allowance for a family of three with children ranges from a low of $259 a month in Franklin County to a high of $447 in Suffolk County. These amounts are not enough to cover the cost of any habitable rental unit in New York State, falling hundreds of dollars below what the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has determined to be fair market rents for these areas.

Earlier this month we released a new report, No Keys to Safe and Decent Housing in New York’s “Safety Net”, which delves into this issue with data from each county in New York State, and offers policy solutions to the housing instability, homelessness, and other issues caused by the huge gap between the shelter allowance and real rents.

The authors, Jessica Radbord and Haley Kulakowski, spoke about the report with Dave Lombardo on the Capitol Pressroom on August 29.


Vacancy Study Bill

Following the passage of the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019, municipalities in New York State are now able to opt into rent-stabilization – if the municipality is able to prove a rental vacancy rate of less than 5%. Municipalities began conducting vacancy studies to determine their rental vacancy rate, but these studies were being done with different methodologies, which in turn resulted in different or inaccurate results.

The NYS Legislature passed the Vacancy Study bill (S.1684-A/A.6843-A) earlier this year. This bill would enact standards for these studies, including codification of incentives for landlords to respond to vacancy surveys, and allows for sanctions against landlords that fail to respond or who intentionally report inaccurate information. Our Tenant Advocacy Practice Group Managing Attorney A.J. Durwin submitted a letter of support for this bill to Governor Hochul’s office on August 3.


Benefits Skimming Notice Bill

Similarly, Senior Benefits Attorney Jessica Radbord submitted a letter of support for the Skimming Notice bill (A.4023-A/S.6088).

Skimming occurs when a thief installs a largely undetectable device at a point-of-sale terminal that reads (or “skims”) the users’ card data and pin number. Our clients have typically been completely unaware that their benefits, such as SNAP or cash assistance, could be “skimmed” in this way until they were victimized. It is a tremendous loss for some of the most economically vulnerable members of our communities.

The Skimming Notice bill requires every person, firm, partnership, association, or corporation engaged in sales transactions that accept EBT cards to post a sign at the point of sale containing a notice regarding skimming. The sign must include steps customers can take to protect themselves from skimming and an appropriate contact number to report skimming incidents. Our recommendation is that the notice also include notice of the right to replacement issuances as authorized under the federal Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023 and pursuant to SSL § 152-d.


Stop the Stops

Our Police Reform Project attorneys Jill Paperno and Katie Blum spoke with Hudson Mohawk Magazine about their report, Stop the Stops: The Disparate Use and Impact of Police Pretext Stops on Individuals and Communities of Color.

Low-level non-safety traffic stops, such as stopping a cyclist for lacking a bell on their bicycle or stopping a motorist for having something hanging from their car’s rear view mirror, are often enforced in racially disparate ways. If you’d like to follow our work on this issue, you can sign up for our Police Reform Project mailing list.


Bridging the Justice Gap

The Office of Court Administration (OCA) will be holding a hearing to evaluate the continuing unmet civil legal services needs in New York on September 18.


Redefining Victim Services

Last week the NYS Office of Victim Services held their conference, Resilience: Redefining Victim Services in an Age of Uncertainty. Remla Parthasarathy, Project Leader of the Crime Victims Legal Network, participated as a panelist in one breakout session, focused on organizational resilience during and as a result of the pandemic. She spoke about the creation and success of our pandemic unemployment hotline, and the adoption of our recent expanded Bereavement Policy.

Remla also participated at the conference’s tabling event where she had a chance to promote the NY Crime Victims Help website. One attendee called the resource “the best kept secret” at the conference.


Recognizing Excellence

Our President & CEO Kristin Brown is being honored by the Legal Aid Society of Northeast New York at their centenary gala on September 9. She will receive the William E. Byron Equal Justice Award. Congratulations Kristin!

Our Chief Strategy Officer Jill Paperno has been selected by the Daily Record and the Rochester Business Journal as one of their 2023 Legal Excellence Awards honorees. The awards will take place on October 5. Congratulations, Jill!


Thank You For Reading

If you’d like to keep up with our policy work, follow us on Twitter and Facebook, or visit the Policy Central page on our website.


If you need civil legal help, you can find contact information for each of our offices here.


The Empire Justice Policy Team