MFY Legal Services Becomes Mobilization For Justice From Harlem To Hollis

MFY Legal Services (MFY), which began in 1963 as the legal arm of Mobilization for Youth, a large anti-poverty program on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, has changed its name to Mobilization for Justice.

MFY pioneered the concept of neighborhood-based legal assistance in low-income neighborhoods, beginning with four lawyers in a basement storefront on the Lower East Side. Within its first decade, it expanded to seven neighborhood offices, from Chinatown to Harlem. From its earliest years, it combined legal assistance to individuals with action to address the underlying inequities faced by the city’s most vulnerable residents.

One of its earliest victories came in the late 1960s when MFY challenged New York City’s policy of arbitrarily cutting people off welfare. The effort resulted in the 1970 Supreme Court decision in Goldberg v. Kelly, establishing an individual’s right to notice and an opportunity to be heard upon denial or termination of benefits. That ruling ushered in what became known as the “due process revolution,” which has since impacted the lives of millions of low-income people throughout the country.

Today, Mobilization for Justice handles more than 12,000 individual cases throughout the five boroughs of New York City each year while initiating class action lawsuits and other impact litigation and engaging in policy advocacy.  Practice areas include housing, government benefits, consumer, employment, bankruptcy, foreclosure, civil and disability rights, special education, immigration, kinship care, and most recently tax law for low-income New Yorkers.  Mobilization for Justice also runs the largest legal project nationally that focuses on serving the legal needs of people with mental illness who live in the community.

In recent years the organization has won major class action lawsuits, including a $59 million settlement inSykes v. Mel Harris for people throughout New York State who were victims of abusive debt collection practices. A settlement in O’Toole v. Cuomo resulted in an agreement by New York State to develop thousands of units of supported housing for people with mental illness who have been warehoused in the city’s notorious adult homes.

“We are very proud of our new name that ties us to our past and takes us into our future,” said Jeanette Zelhof, Mobilization for Justice’s Executive Director. “We have a dynamic staff that provides zealous advocacy for individual clients, works to empower low-income communities and advocates for better policies on all levels of government thereby promoting access to justice for all.”

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