A public-private collaboration has won a $1 million dollar grant to prevent displacement of low-income tenants in Ithaca. Partners include the City of Ithaca, Cornell Law School, Human Services Coalition of Tompkins County, Legal Assistance of Western New York, Inc. and the National Lawyers Guild student chapter at Cornell Law School.
Funds will be used to provide no-cost legal representation and information for tenants in the City; to offer last-resort rental arrears payments to prevent displacement; to establish a housing stability supplement program with monthly stipends and additional supports for tenants; to initiate regular monitoring of eviction cases in City Court and development of a comprehensive eviction database; and to produce a Tenant Rights Handbook and associated website.
“The City welcomes this opportunity to partner in a broad effort to strengthen tenant rights, reduce evictions and improve the lives of low-income residents,” said Mayor Svante Myrick. “Housing displacement imposes a terrible cost and burden on families and we aim to prevent it.”
City Court hears 135 eviction cases in a typical year, most affecting Black, Latinx residents, female-headed households, and low-income tenants, with over half resulting in actual evictions. Few of these tenants have legal representation in court. “Cornell Law School has supported a rapid-response to COVID-19 in creating a new Tenants Advocacy Practicum to assist the many Ithaca residents in precarious housing situations,” said Jens Ohlin, Interim Dean & Professor of Law at Cornell Law School. “The Law School is pleased to be able to collaborate with other agencies in this program to address the disproportionate impact of displacement on low-income communities and people of color in Ithaca. These funds will not only help maintain the Practicum but also help create a new Post-Graduate Fellowship focused on housing law to bring even more resources to bear on preventing eviction.”
The Human Services Coalition of Tompkins County (HSCTC) will coordinate and manage the programs funded by this grant. “The issues of housing and preventing homelessness are central to our work,” said Kathleen Schlather, Director of HSCTC. “This interagency collaboration is a great example of community partners working together to solve major social issues. We are excited to provide these expanded services to the residents of our City.”
“The additional staffing in the LawNY-Ithaca Office established through these grant funds,” said Gregg A. Thomas, Managing Attorney, Legal Assistance of Western New York, Inc. (LawNY®), “will allow us to increase the breadth and depth of legal services we can offer to tenants facing eviction, discrimination, exploitation, and a shrinking supply of decent affordable housing in the City of Ithaca in collaboration with other housing advocates and pro bono volunteers.”
Conor Bednarski, member of the National Lawyers Guild student chapter at Cornell Law School and co-coordinator of the Eviction Court Monitoring Project, said: “The Tenant Rights Handbook we intend to produce and disseminate under this grant will fill an important need in the community. No such resource currently exists.”
Funding for this grant comes from Enterprise Community Partners, a national non-profit working for forty years to promote housing stability among low-income communities
Contacts for additional information: Liddy Bargar, Coordinator of Housing Initiatives, Human Services Coalition, [email protected] or Laura Lewis, Alderperson, 5th Ward, Ithaca Common Council, [email protected].
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