By Nick Loh
The Asian American Bar Association of New York (“AABANY”) just concluded a virtual phone clinic to assist Mandarin and Cantonese speaking tenants in applying for the NYS Homes and Community Renewal’s (HCR) COVID Rent Relief Extension Program. This HCR program allowed NYS renters to seek a one-time rental subsidy for the months of April – July 2020. The program originally opened for submission in late July 2020, extended to August 8, 2020, and then re-opened the application process on December 18, 2020 until February 1, 2021. We assisted 83 callers in total: 87.5% of those callers had limited English proficiency, with most callers speaking Cantonese (41.1%) and Mandarin (46.4%). We handled this call volume with a dedicated team of 24 volunteers.
In response to the program’s second extension, AABANY organized a coalition to get bilingual information and resources out to the community. Articles ran in ethnic newspapers during the weekend of January 17, 2021, announcing our COVID Rent Relief Project 2.0. The goal of the project remote clinic was (1) to provide information to callers on how to apply, (2) if necessary, to have the volunteer and caller contact HCR’s Call Center together to reach an interpreter, and/or (3) to have the volunteer act as the interpreter. No legal advice or legal representation was provided.
At a time of increasing isolation due to the COVID-19 Pandemic and in the face of language access barriers for Mandarin and Cantonese speaking NYC residents, the AABANY Virtual Phone Clinic provided a welcome opportunity to build relationships in the community and provide assistance.
AABANY would like to thank William Lee, Vice Chair of the Student Outreach Committee; May Wong, Remote Clinic Coordinator, and the Organizers of the COVID Response Law Student Team (Nicholas Loh, Xinyi Shen, and Olympia Moy). We thank the 16 law school volunteers (representing 8 different law schools) and 5 community members who made calls, waited on hold to speak to HCR, and provided this valuable assistance to the community.
AABANY would like to thank our community leaders who partnered with us in making this clinic a possibility. They include:
- AABANY’s Pro Bono and Community Services Committee – Co-chairs – Asako Aiba, Judy Lee, Karen Lin, and Karen Kithan Yau; Remote Clinic Coordinator – May Wong
- AABANY’s Vice Chair of the Student Outreach Committee – William Lee
- Roxy Chang, Community Organizer of Asian American For Equality
- Lizzie Lee, Community Liaison from NYS Senator Brian Kavanagh’s office
- Damaris Reyes, Executive Director, GOLES, Inc.
- Jacky Wong, Chinatown Community Land Trust