ITHACA, N.Y.—Low-income tenants around the City of Ithaca will have a new avenue for relief from housing displacement with the newest collaboration between the city, Cornell University’s Law School, the Human Services Coalition of Tompkins County and Legal Assistance of Western New York, coming at a particularly crucial time for those in rental housing.

The relief is in the form of a $1 million grant recently rewarded to the group of applicants. An announcement from the school and city stated that the money will be used to: provide no-cost legal representation and information for low-income tenants; to offer last-resort rental arrears payments to stop displacement; to establish a housing stability supplement program with monthly stipends and additional supports for tenants; to initiate regular monitoring of eviction cases in the City of Ithaca and develop a database of them; and to produce a Tenant Rights Handbook and website.

The funding for the grant is from the Enterprise Community Partners, a national non-profit organization that works to stabilize housing in low-income communities, and will be managed by the Human Services Coalition.

“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.”

Myrick had previously signed an executive order that would have canceled three months of rent debt in the City of Ithaca for those impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, though the effort appears to have died at the New York State Department of Health, which is required to approve such measures during the pandemic.

The fund will hopefully be able to stave off evictions for plenty of renters, which primarily affect Black, Latino/a residents, female-headed households and low-income tenants, according to the announcement. Over half of the 135 eviction cases in an average year result in an actual eviction.

“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 Interim Dean and Law Professor Jens Ohlin, of Cornell University. “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.”

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com