As a staff attorney at Housing Works, an organization that battles AIDS and homelessness, Sina Choi (’08) is on the frontlines assisting people living with HIV/AIDS.
“You’re working with people for whom it may be a challenge to stay alive and healthy,” says Choi, who works with fellow CUNY Law graduate Ed Campanelli (’03).
“If, even for a short amount of time, I can help keep people from being evicted and in decent and safe housing, the additional time may mean more alternatives. While a majority of landlords are represented in Housing Court, most tenants are not,” she says.
Choi, who joined Housing Works in June 2013, focuses on housing and benefits cases for her clients. She did similar work at CAMBA Legal Services in Brooklyn for a number of years representing low-income individuals.
During the course of her work, Choi recalls eviction cases where housing was a focal point for clients’ stability, even as they struggled with other issues.
“It’s hard when many things are in flux at once. It makes a huge difference to have a stable home and not have to spend so much time figuring out where you’re going to live and for how long,” she says.
One client, Choi remembers, had a landlord who did not fix her apartment. She filed a case against management, which counter-filed and alleged her rent had not been paid in full. In the midst of these two cases, the landlord turned around and sued the client for having her dog in the apartment, even though the dog had been living with the client back when she moved in. It was difficult for the client to deal with the case and with her medical conditions at the same time.
Sometimes fights go on for years with a landlord, and sometimes clients have to move, even though it’s difficult to find affordable housing in New York City.
Fighting such battles over housing for clients living with HIV/AIDS is how Choi feels she is able to make a difference in her community. It’s also why she went to CUNY Law School.
“After organizing for social and economic justice in the community, it got to the point where I felt like I wanted to be more effective,” she says.
A law degree from CUNY Law was a way to achieve that.
“CUNY was one of the few places I could go for my J.D. where there was a community of like-minded people who wanted to use the law to help make things more equal,” says Choi.
Choi believes people and their environment are interconnected and, therefore, that fighting injustice has a positive impact for everyone.
“When, as a society, we are not treating all human beings justly, it makes me want to do what I can to push for that,” she says.
– Paul Lin