In a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) on June 29, nearly two dozen federal, state and local legislators expressed concerns about the reopening of housing courts while the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing.
Given the conditions of Brooklyn’s housing court at 141 Livingston Street in Downtown Brooklyn, reopening the site would “pose an unacceptable risk” to public health and exacerbate the crisis, the lawmakers said. Therefore, they want the city to secure an alternative location.
“Based on feedback from our constituents and community-based organizations who work in the housing court every day, we are convinced that this building is no longer a viable location for Brooklyn’s housing court,” they wrote in the letter.
The Livingston Street site only has one public entrance into a room that is usually crowded, the legislators noted. That room then leads through a narrow hallway to elevators.
Legislators said the elevators, only used by those who cannot climb the stairs, are “extremely small, slow and therefore crowded.” The stairs are also narrow, so users can hardly practice social distancing.
Other parts of the building are also too narrow and tight to stay six feet apart, according to the letter, including the hall leading to the clerks’ window and waiting rooms. Even the offices of legal service providers and the cashier’s room are “tiny,” lawmakers said.
“Many people have to wait in narrow corridors for their case to be called or to talk to the landlord’s attorney,” the legislators wrote. “Some of the courtrooms have a small, windowless tiny room for conferences.
“Some have slightly larger rooms with windows for conferences behind the judge’s bench,” they added. “It is highly unlikely that these rooms could be used safely for more than one person.”
Other risks in the facility include the lack of private space for nursing mothers, as well as small and dirty bathrooms that don’t have adequate supplies of paper towels and soap.
“In a post-COVID-19 future, this building, which was already operating beyond its capacity, clearly cannot accommodate this need safely,” they said. “We urge you to commence an immediate and expedient search for an alternative building.”
The Brooklyn elected representatives further requested that DCAS no longer lease the building at 141 Livingston Street.
“It is imperative that an alternative location be secured so that when in-person services resume in the future,” they added, “users of these courts will have space that is suitable, comfortable and, most importantly, safe to use.”