ITHACA, NY – Following a protest outside of City Hall that drew around 35 people, demonstrators planned to march to the Ithaca branch of the Elmira Savings Bank, the institution which they say is unfairly evicting three low-income families in Ithaca.

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The protesters planned to deliver a petition to bank management and outlining their demands for fair treatment of three low-income families who are facing eviction from their rented homes on Meadow Street. The bank recently acquired the properties in a real estate deal and is putting plans in motion to develop the area.

When the protesters arrived at the bank, they were met by at least four Ithaca Police officers. According to IPD Public Information Officer Jamie Williamson, the bank had been aware of the impending protest and had requested police presence as a precautionary measure.

Protesters at the scene were unwilling to discuss what transpired at the bank and whether or not they were able to deliver their petition. Officer Williamson confirmed that there were no incidents at the bank, and the police presence was purely precautionary.

At the rally itself, three people spoke for about 30 minutes. Among them was Ana Ortiz, one of the people who was served an eviction notice by Elmira Saving Bank.

The speakers asserted that Ortiz’s lease was supposed to be good through September of next year, giving the bank no right to evict her.

They also called out city officials, particularly Mayor Svante Myrick, for not doing enough to help people in Ortiz’s position and questioned the city’s commitment to creating new affordable housing.

The protesters speak

In lieu of answering questions, the protesters issued the following statement:

This is a rally on behalf of Ana Ortiz, a single parent Puerto Rican woman who is being forcefully removed from her home by Elmira Savings Bank. This rally is also on behalf of her neighbors and all other low-income people of color who are affected by structural racism in the form of housing displacement in the City of Ithaca.

Ana’s situation in particular has been consistently misrepresented by the Ithaca Journal and Ithaca Voice. Elmira Savings Bank never intended to distribute the $1,000 bribe to the tenants and produced it only when pressured by the Mayor and the people of Ithaca.

Therefore, Elmira Savings Bank’s “gesture” should be perceived as neither “generous,” “responsive,” nor “appropriate.”

Furthermore, it is regrettable that Elmira Bank perceives the $1,000 hand-out as sufficient for a single parent mother of four, who is burdened with the cost of moving expenses, security deposits and general inconvenience resulting from the bank’s decision.

It is absolutely ludicrous considering the failure on the part of the Bank and the property manager for proper and decent notification for tenants. It is scandalous the City and property manager have facilitated this decision which breaches a year lease contract that Ana has signed.

It is absurd that the Bank reportedly “had no knowledge” of the financial status of these occupants when it is clearly eliminating Section 8 housing on the properties.

Following the statement, protest organizer Dubian Ade invited Ana Ortiz to speak.

Ortiz recounted the story of how she was informed shortly before Christmas that her tenancy was being terminated. She appeared to be reading directly from the eviction notice. When she got to the part that referred to her lease as a month-to-month arrangement, Ortiz interjected, “That’s a lie, because I have a one year lease.”

Ortiz said that the purpose of the protest wasn’t just to “make a commotion,” but to inform the community of problems like the one that she is facing.

Ortiz lamented the lack of communication that led to her being blindsided by the eviction notice, implying that she was not informed when the property was put up for sale. She also said she felt like vital decisions about her life were being made without her knowledge or consent.

When Ortiz finished speaking, Ade took up the mic again to read off a series of demands directed at Elmira Savings Bank and the City of Ithaca.

Ade called out Mayor Svante Myrick in particular, saying that Myrick was “complicit in the structural racism that goes on in the city, he’s complicit in people of color being pushed outward from this city, he is complicit in all of the city planning that makes no attempt to produce affordable housing for low income families in this city. He has no interest in making these housing units.”

Protesters’ demands

He proceeded to read the groups demands:

1 – Extending the time Ortiz has to vacate the property to the full duration of the lease she signed, which she says was good through September 2016. “We don’t want a two month extension. Extend it for the amount of time that’s on the contract. The legally binding contract that Ana Ortiz signed that allowed her one year on the property,” Ade said.

Elmira Savings Bank had originally given just 30 days, but later extended it to 90. They maintain that Ortiz was renting month-to-month and they were only legally obligated to give 30 days.

2 – Immediate return of the security deposit and full coverage for the cost of moving for Ortiz and her neighbors.

In an earlier interview, Elmira Savings Bank President Tom Carr said security deposits would be returned once the properties were vacated, as is standard practice. As noted, the bank had also offered $1,000 to cover moving expenses, which Ade referred to as “chump change,” saying it wouldn’t be enough to help anyone move.

3 – The bank, and the City of Ithaca, should be held responsible for replacing any torn down affordable housing with new affordable housing units elsewhere in the city, “to compensate and replace the ones that have been lost.” Ade emphasized the importance of new housing being in the city,

While no plans have been solidified for the properties, city officials including Mayor Myrick have indicated they would like to see affordable housing in that space, and Carr said that the bank was working with the city to put the property to “the highest and best use.”

4 – Eviction notices must be translated into Spanish and any other languages that tenants speak. Ade suggested that not presenting the eviction notices in Spanish was a deliberate strategy to keep tenants from understanding the eviction notices.

5 – A renter’s veto, meaning that tenants should get a say in decisions that affect the properties they live in.

Ade said, “Renters who are most affected by this situation are the furthest away from the decision making involved in this process. Ana Ortiz was probably the last person to know that she was supposed to vacate the property she was living in.”

Following another speaker, the protesters attempted to call Myrick, but only reached his executive assistant who explained that he was unreachable. The group then marched toward Elmira Savings Bank to present their petition.

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.