April 2020: Supporting Workers and Housing Rights During COVID-19

As the situation with COVID-19 evolves, we at TakeRoot Justice are further adapting to continue helping marginalized New Yorkers all over the city since our last update. As our usual caseloads keep going, we’re also piloting new programs to help partners and community members respond to the pandemic.

The clearest need right now is housing, so that people can shelter in place safely in their homes during the pandemic. Our Housing Team has buckled down and worked harder than ever. While we helped fight hard for the eviction moratorium, we already are planning for what to do when it lifts. We’ve created strategies for dealing with interruptions to repairs and maintenance, and strategies for defending against COVID-19-cased eviction cases, for example rent arrears caused by lost income. We’re also looking towards new crisis-related government benefits (none exist yet, but they’re coming and people will need to learn how to screen for eligibility and apply for them). It’s also an important moment to solidity connections on traditional tenants’ rights topics: rent stabilization, the 2019 rent laws, how to enforce tenants’ right to repairs, etc. These are always relevant, and since partner organizers are grounded by the crisis, this is a great opportunity for us to provide them with training that will be valuable to their long-term work.

Led by our Housing Team, we just launched a new Response Hotline that will be fielding questions about: evictions and inability to pay rent, public benefits and unemployment benefits, commercial rent, COVID-19 related issues about court and agency closures and changes to the law, housing court cases, and consumer debt issues. In addition to offering direct resources and brief legal advice, we will track community member needs and emerging patterns. The hotline has launched with one partner organization in each borough, and will expand to more partners from there.

We are also working closely with all our grassroots partners on broader check ins. Our response to the pandemic has been partner and organizer led, as we stay in community with the most effected New Yorkers. Across our work, we are creating virtual trainings, workshops, and know your rights documents and resource guides. Several of these resources guides are already live, include one for consumers, one for workers, and one for immigrants. We have been in close communication with the many community partners we serve, helping to answer the new legal questions that come up at this time.

For our Workers Rights team, those questions particularly center on access to unemployment benefits and expanded pandemic unemployment benefits, emergency sick leave, and who is covered under the Governor’s Order to close physical locations for non-essential businesses. In particular, specific challenges are faced by undocumented workers, who may not have access to unemployment benefits, and domestic workers, who as the single employee of their employer, have questions about whether the new benefits and protections apply to them. Many community partners and members also require assistance and guidance on filling out an unemployment benefits application, which many are doing for the first time.

In response, the Workers’ Rights Practice has expanded our representation to include workers whose applications for unemployment and pandemic unemployment benefits have been denied, and require appeals, as well as an increased focus on emergency sick leave cases. We know that health and safety at the workplace are critical issues for essential workers, and we will continue to provide guidance on these issues. Finally, we have a new streamlined intake process to continue working with current clients and reach new ones. If you could benefit from any of these services, connect with our Workers Rights team here.

Together with partners, supporters, and community members TakeRoot Justice is facing this crisis head on. You can stay up to date on our latest work by following our Twitter, and support our work by donating here. If you or someone you know has a question about legal rights during the pandemic, please do not hesitate to reach out to us.