Residents in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn have long been underserved when it comes to having legal services for housing matters, struggling small businesses and impending financial failures.
Now, they can reach out to Brooklyn Legal Services, dubbed “Brooklyn A,” which cut the ribbon on their new headquarters on Fulton Street this past Friday.
They were joined by Councilman Robert Cornegy Jr. who led the funding efforts to get the office into the community. Also joining them were Councilman Chaim Deutsch and state Senator Kevin Parker, both supporters of these vital services.
When the first signs of gentrification began to sprout in Brooklyn through higher rents, a small group of attorneys working out of a small Williamsburg office led the fight to keep longtime tenants and families in their homes. That was more than 50 years ago.
Throughout that time, Brooklyn A has focused on its mission to advance social and economic justice and empower communities through innovative, collaborative, neighborhood-based legal representation and advocacy.
With the opening of a new storefront on Fulton Street, officials say they’ll be better able to serve the families of eastern Brooklyn.
“For 51 years, Brooklyn A has provided high-quality legal assistance to individuals, families, not-for-profit community-based organizations (CBOs), community development corporations (CDCs), coalitions, and more recently small businesses keen to develop and sustain vibrant, healthy communities,” said Anne Leonardo, director of Brooklyn A’s Consumer & Economic Advocacy.
On a tour of the office, the facility has two floors of offices, lounges and kitchen areas to service clients coming through the door seeking help. In a relaxed environment, attorneys and experts in legal issues can assist Brooklyn residents who are victims of predatory lending and tax problems.
The staff also assists small businesses with difficult legal and contractual issues and prevent evictions; and helps tenants fight harassment and secure their rights to safe and sanitary housing.
Charaynl Rivere, director of operations and Sarah Block, senior development manager led the office tour.
“We have a lot of foreclosure and landlord tenant issue – we have a lot of different practice areas and we need the funding,” said Rivere, “This area needs a lot of assistance.”
Block recalled assisting many people, including saving a mother of facing foreclosure on her home of 20 years because a partner left them with a mortgage that she couldn’t afford.
“The bank would not agree to loan modifications, so we helped her file for bankruptcy protection, and then the bank agreed to loan modification and allowed her to stay in her home with her three daughters,” she said.
They’re also advocating for a tenant association at a Prospect Lefferts Gardens apartment building in disrepair.
“They needed to get repairs – the apartment buildings were in disarray, – there are people who can pay market rent and those who live in stabilized apartments – people of color, low income – we showed them working together makes them stronger,” Block said
Local officials expressed support for the expanded services.
“In the face of changing demographics, and economics and issues like deed theft, third party transfer, the lien sale, and more, their work helps protect our legacy residents, and ensures that people are not displaced or left out because of social and economic circumstances,” said Cornegy.
“Brooklyn Legal Services Corp A provides crucial services to the broader New York City community, and it was my great pleasure to join today’s ribbon cutting ceremony, along with my colleagues Councilman Robert Cornegy and Senator Kevin Parker, at the new office space in Bed-Stuy,” added Deutsch.
State Senator Parker said legal services are important for everyone, especially here in Brooklyn where so many people don’t have the income or the knowledge and understanding of their circumstances.
“The location is important because Fulton Street is the heart of the borough and it will certainly be an accessible place – a place that people will feel respected and dignified when they come here to receive services,” Parker said.