A majority of New York City Council members on Monday sent a letters to Mayor Eric Adams urging him to drastically increase funding for legal aid services in the city. 26 of the 51 councilors signed the letter requesting $195 million as a “first step in addressing the economic crisis facing these critical programs.”
The letter, authored by Councilperson Shaun Abreu, a former tenant rights attorney, referenced several issues facing legal services in the city. He called for increased homicide representation. violet crime in the city, while steadily decreasing, is still experiencing a major increase since 2019. He also called for expanded legal housing assistance. Evictions and other housing issues have grown dramatically since the expiration of COVID-19 housing protections. Legal aid attorneys have been forced to turn down 10,000 housing cases since January 2022 due to the lack of resources.
Most significantly, the letter cites the need to increase public defender and legal aid attorney salaries to address “unprecedented attrition.” According to the New York Public Defender Association the average salary for a public defender position in New York is between $69,000 and 75,000, annually. Salaries in New York City are generally higher. However, the average asking rent of a one bedroom apartment in the city is $3,350 per month and increasing. Plus, the American Bar Association estimates the average debt of a graduating law student at $150,000. This combination of factors has resulted in attorneys seeking higher paying jobs, moving to another location or leaving the profession altogether.
Adams recently called for more legal aid funding while with New York Governor Kathy Hochul. New York announced $40 million in its york-state-budget”>2024 budget for the Homeowner Protection Program. The programs provide funding to dozens of nonprofit housing counseling and legal services organizations around the state to help homeowners in default and foreclosure.
Adams has not yet publicly responded to the council’s request.
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