Advocates call on Mayor Adams to pump funding into city’s human rights agency

Advocates gather on the steps of City Hall to protest for more funding for the NYC Commision on Human Right
Photo courtesy of Gerardo Romo / NYC Council Media Unit

Advocates and elected officials rallied at City Hall last Friday, demanding more funding for the NYC Commission on Human Rights (CCHR).  

Rally organizers urged Mayor Adams to increase the annual budget to at least $18 million per year, and exempt the organization from the ongoing city-wide hiring freeze, to get back to a minimum level of operation.

Advocacy groups at the rally included members of the Human Rights Law Working Group, Unlock NYC, Neighbors Together, the  Legal Aid Society, Make the Road New York, and other organizations.

Participants said that the commission is in crisis, noting a drop in staff attorneys and a lack of overall funding for the CCHR. Currently the commission has only 17 attorneys on staff, compared to the 50 that were working prior to the pandemic. The scarcity in staffing and funding means the CCHR, according to rallygoers, is unable to provide the full extent of services to New Yorkers that are facing a wide range of discrimination. 

Christine Clarke, the chief of litigation and advocacy at Legal Services NYC, works closely with the organization on discrimination cases. Clarke said currently the commission is underperforming.

“Sadly, due to aggressive budget reductions and staff cuts, the Commission is now unable to perform its mission, leaving vulnerable New Yorkers without recourse,” Clarke said. “NYC must rebuild the Commission in order to protect the rights of all New Yorkers and to realize the vision of a just and fair society embodied by our Human Rights Law.”

Advocates said the catastrophic loss of funding means an uptick of unchecked discrimination cases across the city. The CCHR is tasked with protecting the rights of some of the most vulnerable New Yorkers including housing voucher holders, undocumented migrants, the LGBTQ+ community, domestic workers, pregnant women, and others. 

They added that the organization’s responsibilities still continue to grow regardless of dwindling staff numbers. Since 2013 the City Council has passed more than 40 separate amendments to the NYC Human Rights Law.  Recently, the City Council passed the Fair Chance Act, which bans employers from using criminal records in hiring decisions.

Rally participants went even further to say that vulnerable New Yorkers need even more protection against possible hate fueled politics as the new election cycle begins.

In addition, the lack of services at the commission directly contributes to the city’s ongoing homelessness crisis, as residents face income discrimination. 

Charisma White, a leader with the social services nonprofit Neighbors Together, recalled her struggle with finding housing despite having a housing voucher. “I have a fully functioning Section 8 voucher, but I couldn’t obtain housing for more than three years. The city must relieve the pressure of the unjust and discriminatory systems that keep us homeless by adequately funding CCHR’s law enforcement bureau to hire enough staff.  Without enough staff, there won’t be enforcement, and the lack of monitoring and accountability will allow illegal discrimination across the city to continue unpunished,” she said. 

Council Member Nantasha Williams -representing Southeast Queens D27- showed her support for the advocates, adding that increased funding and staffing for CCHA should be a priority. “By bolstering their efforts, we demonstrate a firm commitment to uplifting the voices of the marginalized and creating a city where everyone can thrive,” she said in a statement following the rally.

After the rally, advocates went to 250 Broadway to testify at the Committee on Civil and Human Rights budget hearing.