Yesterday, Michael Powell wrote his Gotham column about Housing Court — but not the Housing Court I’ve written about. Not the Housing Court that confident, persistent people like me can apply to for repairs, for fines, for contempt orders against landlords who fail to make those repairs.
Powell’s Housing Court is one I did have a peripheral view of, though: as I waited to be heard, I sat among people carrying eviction notices, people hoping they’d get help and advice, and wouldn’t be evicted.
It’s a terrific piece, jam-packed with intelligence, compassion, a perceptive picture about Housing Court, and a deep awareness of the complexity of the human condition, and of our current politics: Powell ties his Housing Court visits and reports to the 2013 mayoral race and, by extension, to what will probably be — should be — the most powerful issue in upcoming country-wide elections:
Bill de Blasio, the Democratic mayoral candidate, appears poised to win in a rout on Tuesday, in no small part because he talks of a city riven, with rich and poor, gilded and not so. His liberal patter has put the editorial pages of the city’s tabloids in a fearful state. The New York Post ran a front page featuring a hammer and sickle, and a photograph of a smiling, presumably Red Bill.
Those hyperventilations feel absurd here. Last year, in a city with more than 50,000 homeless people, landlords commenced 217,914 legal actions for nonpayment of rent. That is slightly less than the population of Newark. In that same period, real wages in New York City declined by 4.5 percent.
In miles-long swaths of the South Bronx and east Brooklyn and southeast Queens, a majority of tenants pay more than 50 percent of their income for rent. It’s a desperate mathematics.
As I read it, I had a thought: what if the City Council writes a law, a simple law, blocking landlords from evicting tenants who have Housing Court complaints about the landlord’s failure to repair?
And although I pursued my Housing Court case pro se, I’m firmly with a plan I just heard about, to provide free legal counsel to Housing Court plaintiffs and defendants who feel frantic going it alone.