For my social science project I interned in New York City for a non-profit called Housing Rights Initiative. This non-profit focused on fraudulent real estate practices and secured rent-stabilized apartments in one of the largest cities in the world. As an intern, I worked in a two-parts; the first was doing data-analysis across multiple portfolios and the then work along the lawyers with class-action lawsuits.
The major data analysis project was sorting J-51 buildings. J-51 is a tax benefit that landlords receive and in return they must stabilize every apartment in their buildings. The J-51 tax benefit is given to over 2,000 apartment buildings and the interns had to go through every building’s public records to see if the landlord is lying on their taxes or blatantly lying to the tenants. Once we were able to filter out the worst landlords, we then put them on a map and decided to go after apartment buildings in clusters. I was able to canvas over 25 buildings and ask about their rent histories and tell them about what wrongful actions their landlord has done.
Once we were able to get tenants to meet in a town hall style meeting. We explained the issues at hand in their apartments and were able to tell them that they had the right to a rent refund, a rent reduction and a properly rent stabilized lease. If they agreed to receive legal support free of costs, I would meet up with multiple lawyers and help draft a complaint to the judges. This involved collecting and filtering hundreds of documents and giving the lawyers a one-page synopsis of each case for their benefit. By the time my internship was finished, I had helped file four class-action lawsuits.
Overall, this internship was enlightening and educational. This non-profit organization was only 18 months old when I joined and I was able to help mold the organization for years to come. I learned to deal with multiple personalities when canvassing door-to-door and being adaptable to each tenant. Also, having such a hands-on experience with lawyers was informative to me, being that I would like to be a lawyer in the near future. This unique aspect of work taught me more than I expected to and I helped people in a way that they did not think they could be helped by.
Sidney Carter is a 2017 Social Science Scholar. She is getting her degree in Economics and Finance.