ITHACA, N.Y.—Representatives from the Ithaca Tenants Union (ITU), along with Tompkins County Legislator Veronica Pillar, City of Ithaca Alderpersons Jorge DeFendini and Ducson Nguyen, and Katie Sims, mayoral candidate for Ithaca, and others, rallied against an impending eviction of Kathy Majors, a Laotian immigrant, and her family from their South Hill home of 38 years.

Majors and her family had lapsed on payments during COVID due to trouble with the tax office in Ithaca, resulting in a tax foreclosure, which Habitat for Humanity purchased in 2021 for just shy of $20,605, including $6,662.48 in delinquent city taxes, $8,900 in delinquent county taxes, $3,412.01 in delinquent school taxes and $1,628.27 for water and sewer, plus various additional fees. Habitat for Humanity has since filed for eviction of Majors and her family, securing a warrant from the City of Ithaca allowing it to be executed Friday, Aug. 19.

“I’ve paid my taxes until the pandemic,” Majors said, stating that she wasn’t notified in an accessible way when the City of Ithaca began accepting taxes through an online portal.

Pillar said that Tompkins County prides itself on being an inclusive, welcoming community, and that the current housing crisis makes stable residence fragile. “This should never happen, and must never happen to another Ithaca resident. We have to take thi seriously and change our processes immediately.”

“There’s an easy way to make this right — Turn the house back over to Kathy and her family,” Sims said, stating also that Habitat for Humanity’s “charitable mission is absurd” on the tail of this eviction.

Though initially scheduled for 10 a.m. on Aug 19, officials have communicated with Majors and the ITU about an extension through Monday, when the case will be heard in Ithaca City Court.

DeFendini said that “The $7,000 you paid for it from the city means nothing to a multimillion dollar project like [Habitat for Humanity’s] but it is Kathy’s entire life.”

Nguyen shared the sentiment, saying that if Habitat for Humanity’s mission is preserving homes and helping people improve their living situations, evicting a family that has inhabited a house for nearly four decades is extremely contradictory.

“This is not a dispute, and the challenges they’ve faced during the pandemic should not lead to their eviction,” he said. “I can’t help but think of my own immigrant parents who worked hard to maintain and navigate a life for me and my siblings — if this had happened to us, there’s no question I wouldn’t be where I am today with the privilege to serve my community.”

Shannon MacCarrick, executive director of the Tompkins and Cortland Counties Habitat for Humanity (HFH), provided clarity into the conditions in which the property was purchased.

According to MacCarrick, both Majors and James Lukasavage, another resident in the house, had been notified by “more than a half dozen community agencies” that have been involved in trying to help the family over the past year, though Majors said that she had not been notified of the foreclosure until an eviction warrant was served.

With the eviction warrant initially being obtained in January 2022, legal documentation provided to the Voice shows that HFH “attempted to work with the tenants,” though this proved difficult, eventually leading to a reissued warrant at the end of July. “We feel the only option that exists is to move forward with the eviction as we have attempted everything possible to help the tenants,” the legal documentation states. “Things have broken down over the last 45 days to put Habitat in a position to request the warrant.”

A media statement from the HFH states that “Habitat is aware that a family currently lives on the property, however, it is our understanding that there are no filed legal documents that establish transference of ownership to the individuals living there.” Additionally, it adds that, according to the City of Ithaca, the last known owner of the property is deceased. LawNY noted that the deceased previous owner is Majors’ late husband, with whom she shares a name.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the property in question was purchased through an auction for a total of $6,662, and that no notification was made about the property being foreclosed upon.

Zoë Freer-Hessler

Zoë Freer-Hessler is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. She has covered a wide range of topics since joining the news organization in November 2021. She can be reached at zhessler@ithacavoice.com...