This year’s New York State Civil Legal Aid Technology Conference, held at New York University School of Law in Manhattan, drew a wide range of passionate people determined to improve access to justice. The audience for the day-long conference, held on June 12, included managers, legal staff and technologists from legal services, pro bono providers, private law firms, law schools, corporations and the judiciary.
Together, they sought the expressed goal of “promoting collaborative and innovative uses of technology in order to maximize efficiency and increase the number of individuals served.”
Among the attendees was Brooklyn-based Georges Clement, 26, co-founder and President of JustFix.nyc, which was incorporated in 2016. (The other co-founders are Ashley Treni, Design Director, and Dan Kass, Executive Director.) JustFix.nyc is a non-profit organization that helps New York City renters confront landlords about harassment or neglected repairs.
The conference offered a mix of traditional panels and breakout sessions, both designed to provide “peer-to-peer strategizing and lunchtime discussions.” Clement was on a morning “Rapid Fire” panel, and he also participated with the lunch time “Table Talk”.)
Recently, Clement was featured on Stanford University’s CodeX Blog “Startup Snapshot” series, where he explained the problems JustFix.nyc is addressing. “JustFix.nyc supports renters facing landlord harassment and poor housing conditions with technology to build well-documented cases and connect with community and legal advocates,” Clement said. “Landlords use harassment and neglected repairs as tactics to force tenants to leave their homes, and 1.2 million New Yorkers live in ‘deficient housing,’ with three or more open code violations (mold, rat infestations, lead paint, etc.).”
Clement said the process to seek resolution is “complicated and imbalanced”, adding that 90% of tenants in Housing Court don’t have legal representation, while 90% of landlords do. “We provide unrepresented tenants with a self-help web app that assists in gathering evidence, mediating with their landlord through templated communications, reporting violations to city agencies, connecting with organizers and attorneys and presenting a ‘case history’ — the record of all of their evidence and actions taken — for housing court.”
JustFix.nyc has received grants and awards from the Robin Hood Foundation; Fast Forward Accelerator (funding from Google.org and Blackrock); NYC EDC through winning NYC BigApps, and a micro-grant from Civic Hall Labs; and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Justice Ecosystem asked Georges Clement 5 questions:
- Do you see expanding beyond New York City with JustFix?
Georges Clement: We are solving a problem that is unfortunately not unique to New York City, with tenants in cities across the country experiencing high levels of housing instability and displacement. We have received interest from legal services providers, city governments and tenants’ rights groups in a number of cities and states that want to replicate our model and platform. We anticipate expansion to two to three cities in the next 12 to 24 months, including a deliberate research and customization/localization process to ensure our work will be effective.
- Are other startups doing similar programs in the U.S. or Canada?
Georges Clement: There are a couple of other organizations also working to provide legal empowerment tools for low-income tenants in disputes with their landlords. Squared Away was created by the Metropolitan Tenants Organization (MTO) in Chicago and is focused on helping tenants create notices to send to their landlords. Heat Seek is a partner of ours in NYC that uses internet-connected temperature sensors to create heat logs for tenants facing a lack of adequate heating in the winter.
- Do you have a tenant story?
Georges Clement: Connie was living in an apartment in the South Bronx riddled with roaches, rats and mold. To make things worse, her landlord was harassing her and trying to evict her. Using JustFix.nyc, she documented the situation by taking photos and scanning inspection reports, and logged complaints with city agencies. When she went into housing court unrepresented and presented this case, the judge said, “You’re even more prepared than the landlord’s attorneys.”
- How can lawyers and non-lawyers help JustFix?
Georges Clement: We are always looking for more support and opportunities around distribution partnerships, fundraising and volunteers. Lawyer and non-lawyer advocates who work with clients around housing issues can reach out to set up a JustFix Advocate Dashboard that streamlines their housing work and makes referring clients to JustFix easier.
- Given your experience with JustFix, are you now contemplating law school?
Georges Clement: I’m thinking about this more seriously. When I graduated from college I was planning on attending law school, but upon the advice of family members who are lawyers, decided to work for a few years beforehand. While I’ve been able to work in this field without a law degree, I certainly see advantages to getting the formal background in law school.