justice

Space Case: At Bronx Housing Court, Justice is in the Halls

Housing squeeze.
Housing squeeze: The scene inside the courthouse at 1118 Grand Concourse. Photo: Ese Olumhense/THE CITY

There’s a squeeze in The Bronx, where many of the nearly 90,000 cases filed in Housing Court are heard outside of elevators banks because there’s simply not enough space in the building.

To alleviate the problem, the court is this week moving some of its operations from 1118 Grand Concourse to The Bronx Supreme Court Building, a few blocks away at 851 Grand Concourse.

“The building was allegedly built for us, but we outgrew it shortly after we moved here,” said Supervising Judge Miriam Breier, regarding the courthouse at 1118 Grand Concourse, which was opened in 1997 and cost $44 million.

Map showing distance between old and new courthouses.
Map showing distance between old and new courthouses. Photo: Google Maps

Officials, meanwhile, have not been able to provide THE CITY with an estimate for how much the new move will cost.

The housing court actually moved out of 851 in 1997. It had been located in the building’s basement, “where tenants crowded into packed hallways and lawyers routinely located clients by screaming out their names,” the Daily News reported in November of that year.

Earlier in January, THE CITY watched a settlement hearing for a superintendent being evicted from the home he had lived in for 12 years. As a judge discussed the terms of the settlement, passersby came and went from elevators right next to the landlord, his lawyer and the tenant.

“Having trials in an elevator lobby, as was occurring at 1118 Grand Concourse, was unacceptable,” said Lucien Chalfen, spokesman for the State Office of of Court Administration.

The Bronx sees the most housing court cases in the city each year — over 600 per 10,000 residents, nearly double that of second-place Manhattan. With such a heavy workload, local attorneys say they need more space to work with clients.

Yet, there are some that say this move might do little to ease overcrowding at the busy court.

“Crowding is probably going to be the case no matter where the court is” said Chris Copeland, a supervising attorney with Bronx Legal Services, a nonprofit which helps people navigate the courts.