With New Mineola Office, Free Legal Services Expanded for Long Islanders
NYLAG has taken a significant step in increasing its capacity to serve the legal needs of low- and middle-income residents on Long Island with the recent opening of a satellite office in Mineola. The new space will be a boon to Long Island communities that have extensive legal needs, but a shortage of community-based legal service providers.
NYLAG has long had a presence on Long Island, serving clients from dozens of communities in Suffolk and Nassau counties through partnerships with community centers, courts, hospitals and social services providers. NYLAG’s Mobile Legal Help Center, a law office on wheels, frequently visits local communities with the support of elected officials, whose offices help with coordination and outreach. NYLAG also recently began to offer webinars, teleconferences, and online resources to extend its outreach and education efforts. Last year, NYLAG served 3,600 Long Island residents; with the opening of the Mineola office, the agency expects to be able to increase that number substantially.
“NYLAG provides valuable civil legal services to those in need, often times when they have no other place to turn. Having partnered with NYLAG on multiple occasions to bring programs into our communities, I’ve seen firsthand the need for their services and the impact they have. NYLAG’s new satellite office will enable them to help even more Long Islanders. I thank them for expanding their services here on Long Island,” said Senator Jack M. Martins, who represents the Mineola community in the New York State Senate.
The expanded Long Island program will build on NYLAG’s expertise and on-the-ground knowledge of the region’s critical legal needs. NYLAG attorneys specializing in family law, foreclosure prevention, and disaster relief, among other legal specialties, will be able to cut down on travel time to and from Manhattan, devoting more time to their clients’ needs. NYLAG will continue to build on and leverage its existing ties to community-based organizations. This includes a recently launched partnership with the Northport VA Medical Center in Suffolk County that is building on the work of Touro Law School to assist veteran patients with in a range of legal matters. Over 130,000 veterans live on Long Island, the second-largest population of veterans in the US.
The incidence of domestic violence on Long Island is on par with the rest of New York, and the nation, but the need for experienced, culturally sensitive legal assistance far outweighs available local services. According to Kim Susser, Director of NYLAG’s Matrimonial & Family Law Unit, many clients do not have the money to travel to New York City, or may not be physically able to safely leave the community. Without appropriate and secure office space, her unit had been forced to turn away women seeking assistance.
“The Long Island office allows us to help many more domestic violence victims secure Orders of Protection, child support and custody agreements,” says Susser. “These cases are complex and protracted. Having a safe and accessible place to meet means that distance or cost is no longer a deterrent for our clients. We can now help more clients address their complicated and intertwined legal needs, and put them on the road to reclaiming their lives.”
Even as the mortgage crisis fades in the rest of the US, Long Island homeowners continue to struggle – the region saw a nearly 53% surge in foreclosure filings in the first eight months of 2013. Superstorm Sandy has only exacerbated the problem. Foreclosures are also increasing now that mortgage forbearance periods have ended and homeowners, their savings depleted, are unable to afford to pay enormous lump sum back payments.
“Long Islanders were particularly hard hit by the aftermath of the real estate boom, and their foreclosure cases have been dragging on for years. Our new office space means that we can work far more efficiently to provide services to low- and middle-income homeowners,” said Rose Marie Cantanno, a supervising attorney who heads up NYLAG’s Foreclosure Prevention Project. “This includes representation in all phases of foreclosure litigation, helping clients to obtain loan modifications and other workout options, representation in short sale and deed in lieu transactions, and assisting homeowners who have been defrauded by so-called mortgage relief companies.”
Beyond foreclosures, Long Island residents continue to feel the aftershocks of Super Storm Sandy. More than two years later, the recovery process is not over. In fact, the legal matters they face are more demanding and time-consuming than ever. Clients now require extensive assistance, with cases open for an average of three months before being resolved. And the situation is expected to worsen as evidence mounts about a large-scale scheme to fraudulently reduce insurance payouts to a large number of homeowners. This is all happening as the availability of legal services has continued to shrink.
“Long Islanders whose lives were turned upside down are still battling to obtain benefits from insurance companies and government programs and are struggling with issues like FEMA recoupments, foreclosures and contractor fraud, ” said Will Friedman, a supervising attorney with NYLAG’s Storm Response Unit. “The Mineola office will enhance our ability to connect with clients and continue providing these critical services.”
Integral to NYLAG’s approach will be the availability of interpreter services for clients with limited English proficiency – a growing demographic across New York City as well as Long Island. Suffolk County in particular has seen its immigrant population grow from 11% in 2000 to 15% in 2012, a significant demographic shift. Of the foreign-born, 59% are Hispanic. Although many NYLAG staff members speak Spanish (and over 20 other languages) the agency also enlists the assistance of a corps of interpreters, who are available to participate in face-to-face meetings or via telephone or teleconference. NYLAG is actively adding new interpreters and languages to the program, including sign language, on an ongoing basis.