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Court Decides if City is Obligated to Provide Housing Subsidies to the Homeless


Plaintiffs are a class of formerly homeless families and individuals for whom the City paid rent through a program called Advantage. The City induced these plaintiffs, many of whom are victims of domestic violence, to leave the relative safety of the shelter system and to enter into leases for apartments they could not afford. The City accomplished this by agreeing to pay all or a portion of plaintiffs’ rent for a year with the promise of a second year if they met the eligibility requirements for the Advantage program. However, a New York Criminal Lawyer said once plaintiffs took the City up on its offer and moved, the City terminated that funding during the lease term.

An action for specific performance, and declaratory and injunctive relief was filed where plaintiffs seek to bar termination of a rent subsidy program (the Advantage Program) run by the NYC Department of Homeless Services even though federal and state funding was withdrawn effective April 2011.

Plaintiffs argue that the various documents appertaining to the subsidy program (Certification Letters, Participation Agreements and Lease Riders) contractually obligate the City to continue the subsidies.

Is the City required to continue the subsidies?

The court sympathizes with plaintiffs and recognizes that an adverse outcome could place them at risk of again ending up in the New York City emergency shelters for the homeless and battered women, a system undoubtedly already overcrowded and overburdened. Unfortunately, this cannot constitute a valid reason to reverse the trial court’s determination because the court is constrained to apply cardinal principles governing the construction of contracts to the course of conduct and communications between the parties. Accordingly, the court finds that the trial court correctly found that the Advantage rent subsidy program for the homeless was simply a social services program, and that defendants did not intend to be bound contractually.

Courts have ruled before that the existence of a binding contract is not dependent on the subjective intent of the parties, but on the objective manifestations of intent; that in seeking a practical interpretation of the expression of the parties, disproportionate emphasis should not be placed on any single act, phrase or other expression, but on their totality given the attendant circumstances, the situation of the parties and the objectives they were striving to obtain. A Long Island Criminal Lawyer said that although the question of contractual intent is essentially factual in nature, this does not mean that a court is obliged to accept at face value every conclusory assertion of fact regarding intent.

In the case at bar, plaintiffs place undue emphasis on the trappings of contract language such as “guarantee” or “will pay,” construing them as legal promises rather than mere assurances; it was reasonable to understand “guarantee” as defendants do, as intending to allay fears that rents would not be paid in the absence of public assistance, as had often happened under previous subsidy programs. Plaintiffs also rely too heavily on the signing procedure, which was meant to accomplish no more than ensure that participants were aware of the terms of the program. Even if the tenant participants and the landlords intended to be contractually bound, there is no enforceable contract in either instance because defendants profess to have understood the documents differently with respect to their basic material nature, i.e., that the City was undertaking a governmental social services obligation that was within its discretion to terminate rather than an contractual obligation; there was no meeting of the minds.

The Advantage program was a social service program no different from any other, and not a contractual obligation undertaken by the government. A New York City Criminal Lawyer said absent a contract, there is no merit to plaintiffs’ contention that the City is required to grant a second year of rent subsidies if participants meet previously established criteria.

Without a contractual meeting of the minds, it is unnecessary to address the parties’ arguments regarding the existence of consideration for plaintiffs’ becoming participants in the Advantage program. In any event, it is a fundamental principle of contract law that a promise to perform an existing obligation is not valid consideration. Plaintiffs were obligated to cooperate and accept the housing offered by the Advantage program. Thus, their claim of providing consideration by suffering the detriment of leaving shelters and of leasing apartments that cost more than they could afford is also without merit.

To know more about domestic violence, what your options are, or the legal remedies available, contact Stephen Bilkis & Associates. We offer free consultations with the finest lawyers in the city. Our New York City Domestic Violence Lawyers can help you with your cause. We will help you fight your rights in the courts of law. Our New York City Criminal Lawyers can also assist you with pursuing criminal actions.

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