Housing Rights Initiative takes a proactive and systematic approach to targeting, investigating, and fighting fraudulent real estate practices and connecting tenants to legal support.
HRI’s data-driven model identifies properties where there is a high probability of systematic fraud. We launch investigations and generate class action lawsuits against predatory real estate companies.
Through a legal mobilization effort, HRI lays the foundation for tenants who have been defrauded by their landlords, to seek redress and secure their rights under the law.
Housing Rights Initiative is a tax-exempt organization under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.
Aaron Carr is the founder of Housing Rights Initiative. Prior to starting HRI, he was a chief of staff in the New York State Assembly. In that role, he gained vital experience dealing with housing issues that negatively impacted the quality of life for legally defenseless families.
He saw the good, landlords appropriately managing their properties and following rent stabilization laws, and the bad, landlords exploiting the reactive housing enforcement strategies by neglecting to manage their properties and defrauding tenants.
To combat these issues, Aaron and his team took a systematic and proactive approach by going into target buildings and collecting the data needed to actuate tangible change.
These are the principles that will serve as the blueprint to HRI: target, investigate, and resolve.
Yovan Collado currently serves as Deputy Director for Housing Rights Initiative. He was born and raised in New York City, spending his early years as a resident of Lillian Wald Houses on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and later moving to the Northeast Bronx. Yovan’s parents had come to the United States from the Dominican Republic in search of a better life. Here, they managed to raise six children into professional and productive citizens of which Yovan is the youngest.
His passion for protecting the housing rights of those who are most vulnerable emerges partly from personal experiences, and from seeing many families become victims of the affordable housing crisis that has engulfed his beloved city. Yovan has always had a strong desire to serve his community, and was a member of the NYPD Auxiliary program as a teen and young adult. In his role as an auxiliary police officer, he dedicated many hours to acting as the eyes and ears of local police officers and creating strong police-community relationships.
Yovan is a Presidential Scholar at Herbert H. Lehman College (CUNY) in the Bronx, with a major in Political Science. In his free time, he enjoys reading the news, exploring New York City, and spending time with his family.
Lucy Merriam is currently a Research and Policy Associate at HRI and a Baruch College undergrad double majoring in Urban Studies and New York City History & Policy within the CUNY Baccalaureate program.
Her work in local government and politics began at 14 years old through the Youth Leadership Councils within the City’s Department of Cultural Affairs and the Human Resources Administration. She went on to intern in the Mayor’s Office at NYC Service, on multiple political campaigns, and in the New York City Council. Lucy is passionate about bringing her high school and college peers into local politics and government, and is especially proud of her work in organizations strengthening student and youth civic leadership.
In her free time, Lucy enjoys studying painting and drawing at the Art Students League of New York, reading about New York City, and following local politics.
Sarah K. Steiner, Esq. is a sole practitioner in Manhattan, with a practice principally in election law and criminal defense. Ms. Steiner represents candidates, non-profit corporations, civic associations and PACs on the legal aspects of their political activities, and advises on state and federal campaign finance law, compliance, and ethics obligations.
Her experience includes litigation as well as appearances before administrative agencies
such as the New York City Campaign Finance Board and the Board of Elections in the City of New York.
She was an Assistant District Attorney in the Office of the District Attorney, Queens County from 1987-1993, serving in the Rackets, Arson and Economic Crimes Bureau for most of that time. Prior to that, Ms. Steiner was a litigation associate at Reavis and McGrath, now known as Norton Rose Fulbright.
Ms. Steiner chaired the Election Law Committee of the Association of the Bar of the
City of New York from September 2013 to August 2016. She has twice been a member of the ABCNY Criminal Courts Committee, and was its Chair from 1992-1995, and was a member of the ABCNY Criminal Justice Operations and Budget
committee from 2000-2003.
Ms. Steiner has a BA in history and political science from the City University of New York, and is a 1983 graduate of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. She is admitted to practice in New York, the Southern and Eastern District Federal Courts of New York, and the Supreme Court of the United States.
Afua Atta-Mensah, Esq. has dedicated her career to public interest law working to defend and craft public policy initiatives that empower historically disadvantaged communities throughout New York.
Afua currently serves as the Director of Litigation and Policy for a New York City public interest law firm, where she oversees the project’s affirmative litigation on behalf of classes and individuals in federal and state courts. Ms. Atta-Mensah also served as a Fellow at the Center for American Progress’ Leadership Institute. The Leadership Institute works to identify, equip, and advance a new generation of leaders from diverse backgrounds and communities to assume responsible roles in the development and implementation of progressive public policies. She is the mother of a three-year old daughter and a proud resident of Central-Harlem.
Erik is currently Deputy Chief Operating Officer for Mercer Partners, a Long/Short Global Equity Hedge Fund located in lower Manhattan. He oversees day-to-day operations, works with investors.
His background includes running the field operations for a congressional race in the 23rd Congressional District, Campaign Manager of a WNY County Executive race. He was recently elected to President of the Village Independent Democrats, the oldest reform democrat club in New York City. Erik is a community organizer, and currently serves as an executive committee member on Community Board 2 Manhattan.
He is an avid Mets fan and played rugby at the State University of New York at Fredonia, where he graduated in 2013 with a degree in Political Science.
Mr. Draizin is the founder and president of the Concordia Philanthropic Fund whose mission is to support youth leadership initiatives primarily in the LGBTQ and Progressive political sectors. Previously he was the President of Longview Capital Advisors, a real estate investment and mortgage banking company. He is the co-founder and President of the CUNY LGBTQ Leadership Program as well as creating and volunteer teaching Financial Empowerment Workshops and classes at CUNY. He serves on the board of various nonprofits, including the Congressional Award Foundation, The New Leaders Council and the Williams Institute, Housing Rights Imitative the American LGBTQ+ Historic and Cultural Museum Project.
• The Congressional Award Foundation, Board of Directors
• The Point Foundation, Board of Directors
• Lambda Legal, National Leadership Council
• Truman National Security Project-CNP, National Advisory Board
• National LGBT Museum, Board of Directors
• The Mayor’s Fund, Advisory Board
• Out Leadership Advisory Board
• Williams Institute, Founders Council
• Hunter College President’s Advisory Board for the LGBT Public Policy Center at Hunter College
• New Leaders Council (NLC) National Board; Honorary Chairman of the NYS Chapter
• President’s Advisory Board for the LGBT Policy Center at Hunter College
• Thalia Spanish Theater, Queens, NY, Vice President, Board of Directors
• Playworks, NY/NJ Board of Directors
• Advisor to various LGBT non for profit organizations and state and nationwide initiatives
• Mentoring young professionals in real estate finance and community involvement
• Volunteer teach financial literacy/entrepreneurship credit senior class currently at the Hunter Science High School
• Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee: Speaker’s Council; Developed the DCCC/LGBT Council and directing a national LGBT outreach campaign
• Involved with various national, state and local Democratic Party initiatives and candidates
• MBA: Vanderbilt University Owen School of Management
• BA: George Washington University
Michael has been a housing attorney in New York City for more than ten years, including as a staff attorney at South Brooklyn Legal Services and as a supervising attorney at MFY Legal Services, where he supervised the housing and three-quarter house practices.
Michael received a J.D. from Harvard Law School and a Masters Degree in Public Administration from the Kennedy School of Government in 2006, and clerked for U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner in the District of Massachusetts. Before becoming a lawyer, Michael worked as a community organizer for six years with local leaders building power in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Texas.
Michael “Ziggy” Mintz is a computer programmer, GIS teacher, housing activist, and an expert on NYC data. He received his MSc. in Urban Planning at University College London and currently teaches GIS at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.
Ziggy is a self-taught programmer who believes that computer programming can be an vital tool for social justice. His housing research projects would not be possible with the support of The Learning Collective (http://thelearningcollective.nyc), an organization of activists who teach each other to code.
In 2014, with other community organizers, he helped launch the Bushwick Community Map (http://BushwickCommunityMap.org), a project that displayshousing and planning data in an accessible way. He continues to regularly do data analysis and research for grassroots organizations, lawyers, and non-profits. If there’s a housing data question you have, Ziggy will be happy to help.
Carmen G. Rivera currently serves as the Assistant Vice President of Communications & External Affairs for VIP Community Services, Bronx NY. Carmen served on the Board of Directors of VIP Community Services for 35 years, where she served as its Chair for 20 years. Ms. Rivera is an active community organizer and activist who facilitated a myriad of community partnerships throughout her 42 year history with the organization.
Ms. Rivera was born in Bayamon, in Puerto Rico and is the third of six children. Her bilingual and bicultural background provided her with sensitivity to the plights of the influx of immigrants and those with language barriers. She began a career of volunteerism; most notably at her local parish of St Anthony’s where a local priest (Rev. Father Robert Banome) helped to nurture her thirst for spiritual ministry and activism. These ecumenical efforts helped to propel the Bronx leaders into providing housing for the poor, food for the hungry, and treatment for those suffering from chemical dependency. Ms. Rivera became a leader in provision of those services in her community.
Her community leadership has spanned decades. Carmen has served on Community Board 9 for seventeen years, and held a post on the Executive Committee for nine. Ms. Rivera also served for 14 years as Housing Chairperson. Ms. Rivera honorably served as parish trustee for 18 years, and President of Parish Council for Church of St. Anthony. Ms. Rivera serves as a mentor and leader to young girls ages 7- 18 years. She provides spiritual mentorship and community projects to create future Latina leaders. She also serves as a member of the Executive Committee of Discovery for Justice Coalition, a nonprofit organization that advocates for criminal justice reform.
Her early professional career was in Publishing. Carmen was employed as the National Sales Manager at Bookazine a Book Wholesaler, later becoming National Trade Sales Manager at Lectorum/Scholastic Publishing marketing Spanish books nationwide. Carmen was a member of the American Library Association, American Bookseller’s Association, and a member of Reforma, supporting the needs of Spanish speakers through library services. In 2009, Carmen was honored with the first Lifetime Achievement Distinction providing services to the Latino community.
Her most important role is the matriarch of her family. Carmen is mother to Yolanda & Jeanette and grandmother of three: Jasmine, Destiny, and Brandon. She is great grandmother to Hailey and Dominick. Ms. Rivera is a proud resident of Bronx, NY for 54 years and has resided in the same home for 45 years. She is an avid reader who enjoys culinary arts and travel.
Bill Samuels is Chairman of Effective NY, a nonpartisan think tank that focuses on major public policy changes in New York State on education, the environment, equal rights for sexual orientation and gender expression and identity, retirement security, criminal justice reform and affordable housing.
After law school, Bill started a trailblazing education company that focused on training workers 16 years and older on the basic skills needed to get and keep a job. Currently, he is Chairman of the Hills Treatment Center in Los Angeles, a facility dedicated to helping people overcome addiction.
Bill has a rich history as an innovative political thinker and activist. He was one of the founders of a non-profit Council on Economic Priorities, which was the first organization focused on making public companies’ social and environmental policies responsible.
Bill worked with John Kerry and Vietnam Veterans against the War, organizing an historic March on Washington in 1971. Later, in response to the “swiftboating” of Democratic nominee John Kerry, Bill produced the documentary Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry to set the record straight about Kerry’s heroism.
In recent years, Bill has focused on helping the Democrats control the New York State Senate. In the 2008 election cycle, Bill served as Finance Chairman when Democrats won the State Senate.
Later, when the Senate Democratic Conference took back defecting Democratic State Senator Pedro Espada from Dean Skelos’ Republican Party, Bill resigned as Finance Chair. He launched a political action committee that defeated the corrupt Pedro Espada.
Last year, Bill’s main focus was on devising and advancing innovative, cutting edge constitutional changes.
Among the issues he had played an important role in advocating, the creation of a landmark inclusive Equality for All amendment, and a New York State Environmental Bill of Rights. Both amendments were submitted to the New York State legislature in 2017.
In addition, Bill helped start “21 in 21” to elect more women to the City.
Bill is a graduate of MIT and Harvard Law School.
John is a lifelong Bronx resident who understands the importance of education and the great need to eliminate achievement disparities in schools. He previously served as Constituent Services Manager in the NYS Assembly and worked in the South Bronx where he was responsible for managing the district office, overseeing constituent services, and community outreach. He now continues his service to underserved communities as the NYC Advocacy Manager where he works with schools, parents, and elected officials. In this role, John advocates for the thousands of children attending charter schools, to ensure that all children have the opportunity to attend an excellent school. He is a founding board member of a charter school planning to open in The Bronx in 2017.
Natalie Webb received her BA in politics and psychology from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and her JD from CUNY School of Law. During law school Natalie specialized in impact litigation, including assisting on cases challenging police brutality and extraordinary rendition. Since 2012 Natalie has focused on the right to housing, working with non profits in Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Manhattan on behalf of low income tenants and homeowners to prevent eviction and foreclosure. In 2014 Natalie worked with non profits in Cape Town advocating for adequate housing and social services on behalf of residents in the informal settlements and temporary relocation areas. Natalie currently is a staff attorney in the Housing Unit at MFY Legal Services.