Profile: Women’s Leadership Initiative Housing Clinic

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In the Spring of 2014, The Legal Aid Society’s Queens Neighborhood Office (“QNO”) partnering with the law firm of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP launched the Women’s Leadership Initiative (“WLI”) Housing Clinic. The WLI, a component of the firm’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion, is dedicated to pro bono work and the sponsorship of non-profit organizations committed to helping women in need.

Pro bono volunteers from Cadwalader, mentored by the Society’s Civil Housing Practice staff, represent women at New York City Housing Authority (“NYCHA”) Termination of Tenancy hearings. The firm developed the clinic in an effort to both benefit women in need and provide junior attorneys with an opportunity to gain practical skills to further their professional development. In 2016, the firm expanded its work by enlisting the help of attorneys from their corporate client BNP Paribas.

In one case, Cadwalader attorney Ellen Halstead helped a mother – an active duty member of the Armed Forces – her children, her sister, and her sister’s children to keep their apartment and obtain a lease despite NYCHA’s insistence that the family had no right to remain in their home. Cadwalader’s work effectively prevented eight New Yorkers from becoming homeless. Sateesh Nori, Attorney-in-Charge of the Queens Neighborhood Office, who has been involved with the project from the very beginning said, “Thanks to Cadwalader, some of our most vulnerable clients, many of whom Legal Aid would not have the resources to help, have a chance at saving their apartments, their families, and their homes.”

In another case, Julia McNally, a Supervising Attorney in the Queens Neighborhood Office, partnered with Cadwalader attorney Christopher Porcelli and paralegal Charlotte Odence to ensure safe and sanitary NYCHA housing for a Spanish-speaking client, her daughter, and her three grandchildren, the youngest of whom is only one year old. The team has represented the family in two housing court nonpayment cases and an ongoing administrative hearing. During the course of the representation, they successfully advocated for extermination for bedbugs, repairs to peeling paint and plaster, and two rent reductions. Both housing court cases were ultimately discontinued on consent, and NYCHA will likely withdraw the administrative hearing based on the rent reduction. Julia McNally stated, “As a result of our partnership with Cadwalader, we are able to improve housing and secure an affordable apartment for this multi-generational, female-headed household.”

Since its inception, the WLI Clinic has helped families remain in their homes and has been honored by the Society with its Pro Bono Publico Award for Innovative Pro Bono Assistance.