Storage Wars: Helping a Senior Keep Her Memories – by Vivienne Duncan
by CBJC Staff August 10, 2015
Ann Smith (not her real name), a senior in her 60s, lost her job and soon found herself struggling to pay the bills. Despite her best efforts to keep things going, she gradually fell behind with the rent and was evicted from her apartment. She left with only what she could carry. All the rest of her belongings, including furniture, almost all of her clothing and other irreplaceable mementos, were bundled up and put into storage by her landlord.
Ann spent nine months in a shelter until she was finally offered a place at a Single Room Occupancy (SRO) residence.
As the weather turned cooler and she continued to wear the small selection of clothes she had taken with her, Ann worried about the fate of her property. Since the landlord had paid just one month’s fees to put her items into storage, several months of payments were overdue on the unit. As a result, Ann was not permitted to enter the unit and, worse, the facility was threatening to auction off her belongings unless she paid the outstanding amount. She was now facing winter with her possessions being ‘detained’ in a different borough where, even if she could have paid the fees, it was difficult for her to get to.
Ann had been requesting help from the NYC Human Resources Administration (HRA), which, among other services, provides financial assistance to eligible individuals in Ann’s situation. In particular, they can cover monthly storage fees and arrears, and the costs of moving to an alternate location. However, trying to navigate HRA’s convoluted system, and its duplicative demands, had exhausted Ann and she despaired of ever recovering her belongings.
Ann was directed to one of the free legal clinics run by the City Bar Justice Center’s Elderlaw Project, which is staffed by attorneys from the law firm Reed Smith, LLP. Ann met with Evan Farber, and explained her predicament. Although, on the face of it, she was eligible for the benefits she was seeking, when Evan followed up he soon encountered the same bureaucratic obstacles Ann had run into.
Over a period of months, Evan advocated with HRA on Ann’s behalf, while also mediating with the storage facility to dissuade them from auctioning off of her belongings. There were constant promises by HRA that they would cover the monthly storage fees, but payments were extremely sporadic and did little to satisfy the storage company. While Ann’s case inched its way through HRA’s system, she found an alternate, conveniently-located storage unit, which she was in danger of losing unless she received assistance from HRA. Faced with the impending auction of her possessions, Evan and Ann joined forces with Priom Ahmed, a staff member at NYC Council Member Daniel Garodnick’s office, to challenge the continuing bureaucratic road blocks.
As a result of their tenacious joint advocacy, HRA finally covered the storage arrears and moving costs to the new facility which, after a year, totaled over $5,000. This financial assistance was crucial in allowing Ann to move beyond the devastating experience of being evicted, living in a shelter, and almost losing everything that she owned. After months of constant stress she now has a safe place to live and ready access to her property.
Expressing her happiness to Evan and Priom, she wrote “Miracles happened after a lot of hard work from both of you. How could I thank you enough! I am all moved in to my storage unit and it all fits with room left over. Amazing…thank you so much!”
To contact the Elderlaw Project, call 212-382-6658 or email them here.
Vivienne Duncan is Director of the Elderlaw & Cancer Advocacy Projects at the City Bar Justice Center
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