Center launches free legal clinics for NYCHA residents
by Jess Berry
Feb 04, 2015 | 9188 views | 0 0 comments | 304 304 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When Tyshema Basnight made the decision to move in with her terminally ill mother to help with her care, she never expected that her decision would lead to eviction and possible homelessness.

Basnight’s mother lived in Queensbridge Houses, a New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) development in Long Island City, for decades. Basnight herself was raised there, living in Queensbridge for 30 years before moving out to Far Rockaway when she had her first child.

But when her mother became terminally ill, Basnight had to make a difficult decision.

“Me traveling from Far Rockaway two hours to take care of my mother, while also being a mother to my daughter and taking her to school, it was too much,” Basnight explained. “So we decided that the best thing for me to do was to move back here.”

Basnight’s mother passed away in November, and now due to NYCHA’s apartment inheritance policy, Basnight and her two children are facing eviction and homelessness.

NYCHA’s policy states that Basnight would have to be on the lease with her mother for a year in order for her to have the right to keep the apartment. Basnight said she was approved to join her mother’s lease in September, and her mother passed away shortly thereafter, in November of last year.

She informed NYCHA of her mother’s passing and was immediately issued a six-month eviction notice in court that she was told she had to sign.

Basnight said she tried to fight the decision, but with no success.

“I even brought my kids with me,” she said. “I sat there, I cried. I explained the situation. I will be homeless. I have nothing. I have no one. And they just shooed me away.”

That was when she was introduced to lawyers at the Urban Justice Center through the Safety Net Project, which is now offering free legal clinics to NYCHA residents with support from the Queens delegation in the City Council.

Afua Atta-Mensah, a lawyer from the Safety Net Project, explained that what NYCHA is trying to do is “despicable.”

“It’s really stark,” Atta-Mensah said. “She either stays in her household and pays rent, or is in the shelter and taxpayers pay for her, which seems antithetical to the Housing Authority’s mandate and to what this administration says they were going to do.”

Basnight joined Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer on Monday to announce the launch of the Urban Justice Center’s free legal clinics for NYCHA residents.

Van Bramer said that he has seen the high need for legal services for NYCHA residents, many of whom are facing issues similar to Basnight’s.

“It’s incredibly important that NYCHA residents have access to legal services, in particular in their sometimes too-often battles with NYCHA itself,” Van Bramer said.

“It is absolutely unconscionable for NYCHA to penalize and move to evict aggressively a woman like Tyshema Basnight and her family because she did not know how long her mother would have to live,” he added.

The Urban Justice Center will now offer bi-weekly legal clinics at the Jacob A. Riis Settlement House in the Queensbridge Houses on the first and third Tuesday of each month, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Services will also be offered at Councilman Donovan Richards’ office in the Far Rockaways on the second and fourth Fridays of the month.

The services are open to NYCHA residents from across the borough. Attorneys can help with public assistance benefits, SNAP benefits, problems with public housing and shelter applications for homeless families and adult couples.

“Ms. Basnight was told that NYCHA always wins,” said Denise Miranda, managing director of the Safety Net Project. “We are here today to let you know that NYCHA doesn’t always win.”

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