Updated: May 10
By Timothy Bolger
East End renters facing eviction proceedings and immigrant children at risk of deportation have new legal resources at their disposal when they find themselves in court fighting to stay in their homes.
Organización Latino Americana (OLA) of Eastern Long Island, the Sagaponack-based nonprofit that advocates for Twin Forks area immigrants and Latin Americans, announced the pair of new initiatives in efforts to help people who may soon have a judge decide where they can and cannot live.
“OLA is answering the call for more direct legal representation for East End Latinos,” said Minerva Perez, the group’s executive director.
OLA joined forces with The Door to offer access to free direct legal representation for local minors formerly in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement — shelters for minors who arrive in the U.S. without a parent or guardian — and have received a Notice to Appear in Immigration Court.
OLA also expanded its housing advocacy to ensure it has a weekly presence in the East Hampton and Riverhead town justice courts in response to a spike in eviction threats from local landlords. The group reports receiving numerous calls from Latino community members who find themselves potentially facing homelessness now that the coronavirus pandemic-induced eviction moratorium has been lifted but the resulting economic hardship endures for many.
The initiative complements OLA’s administration of New York’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), a statewide program that helps people who have fallen behind in their rent payments during the pandemic to access financial assistance from the state.
“One of the main reasons why OLA’s presence in the East End courthouses is important is that we can educate community members who are being evicted from their homes about help that is available,” said Erika Padilla, OLA’s legal and administrative assistant. “They come to their court appearances without legal representation, without knowing their rights as a tenant and the options they have. In my time observing eviction cases in East Hampton, I’ve seen different scenarios in which tenants behind in their rent payments had no idea that the Emergency Rental Assistance Program existed and that OLA could help them fill out the application.”
OLA’s Crisis Response and Recovery Coordinator, Wally Ramirez, added: “It is also important to be able to offer information to families who are facing homelessness about potential help from Nassau Suffolk Law Services and Empire Justice Center, as well as other crisis resources.”
The group has also handled some eviction cases with pro bono support from Jack Lester, a local attorney it has worked with for years, Perez noted. Although OLA is a Latino-focused organization, its onsite support in the courts is for all community members, not just Latinos.
“OLA is here for the entire East End,” said Perez.
For more info about eligibility, call OLA at 631-899-3441 or visit olaofeasternlongisland.org.