NYLAG was recently awarded a grant from the Good Neighbor Committee of the Ford Foundation to implement a new Midtown Consumer Protection Project (MCPP). The Project provides residents of Midtown Manhattan with legal representation and advice on foreclosure prevention and other consumer law matters, including debt collection defense and bankruptcy options. Central to the MCPP is its ability to offer extensive financial counseling services, as well as legal assistance, thereby providing clients with a unique holistic suite of services to solve their consumer issues.

The legal needs of low-income Midtown residents are often overlooked due to their location in an area of relative affluence. Yet many of these New Yorkers desperately need consumer protective services. They often face challenges that prevent them from becoming financially stable, such as the inability to obtain a loan due to incorrect information on their credit reports, or the burden of dealing with illegal debt collection harassment.

Compounding the situation for many individuals is the limited availability of free consumer law and professional financial counseling services. More than 96% of consumer credit defendants within the New York City Civil Courts are unrepresented, putting them at a significant disadvantage when defending their rights against well-represented collection agencies and debt buyers.

Many of these cases run much deeper than simple debt due to hardship. Frequently, a victim of identity theft is wrongfully sued but will end up agreeing to a settlement out of fear and a lack of familiarity with the Court process. Additionally, many individuals are improperly served or not served at all, remaining unaware that a lawsuit has been filed against them until it directly affects their daily lives. Sometimes this takes the form of having one’s bank account frozen or wages garnished without warning. In many cases, simple legal advice and counseling can dramatically improve these defendants’ legal outcomes and economic stability.

NYLAG is partnering with local Midtown agencies, such as the Jewish Board of Children and Family Services, to implement the new project. These sites not only serve as intake hubs, but NYLAG also uses them to host community education workshops that inform individuals of their legal and financial rights and options as consumers. With the support of the Ford Foundation, NYLAG is alleviating the pains and stresses that personal financial crises exact from Midtown residents.