VOLS Testifies at New York City Council Committee on Veterans Hearing and Committees on Finance and Aging Hearing on January 21, 2020

January 28, 2020

Elderly Project and Legal Director of Volunteers of Legal Service (VOLS), Peter Kempner, did double duty on January 21st, 2020 as he testified at two hearings before the New York City Council.

In the morning, Mr. Kempner testified at the Committees on Finance and Aging joint oversight hearing on the City’s Rent Freeze Programs, which includes the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE). He testified that aside from needing advance directives, the number one issue our senior clients face is housing stability. He pointed out that SCRIE, and its sister program the Disability Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE), are essential to prevent to a wave of senior homelessness and the programs must be protected and enhanced. Mr. Kempner’ testimony highlighted some limitations of the Rent Freeze Programs and suggested some potential solutions. These limitations include the fact that the programs are limited to tenants of rent regulated apartments, the programs do not freeze rent retroactively, they often freeze rent at unaffordable levels, and the ability of recipients to adjust benefits after the death of a spouse are limited and confusing. VOLS believes that the City’s Rent Freeze Programs can and should be improved to help our senior’s age in the community with dignity and respect. To watch the video of the hearing and VOLS’ testimony, click here.

 

 In the afternoon, VOLS showcased our new Veterans Initiative, at the Committee on Veterans oversight hearing on the Future of the City’s Department of Veterans Services (DVS). Our testimony highlighted that many of the issued faced by our City’s low income veterans are legal in nature and urged the City Council and DVS to invest more resources into free legal services for those who have worn the uniform. Mr. Kempner’s testimony focused on two issue areas where free legal services could make a significant difference for veterans. First is investing in legal services for representation of veterans with claims before the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). New York’s veterans received a disproportionately low level of VA benefits and studies have found that the lack of access to legal services is a contributing factor to the denial of VA claims. Second he highlighted how the City’s Universal Access to Counsel in Housing Court Program shuts out many of the City’s most disabled veterans. Because Universal Access to Counsel is limited to tenants with income at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level, veterans who received 100% Service Connected Disability benefits from the VA are denied an attorney if they are facing eviction in Housing Court. These are the veterans who have sacrificed the most in service to our nation and they should not be left to stand alone in Housing Court if facing eviction. To watch the video of the hearing and VOLS’ testimony, click here.