On January 28, 2022, Cornell Law School was recognized at a virtual White House event as one of ninety-nine law schools that responded to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland’s “Call to Action” to the legal profession to address the nationwide housing and eviction crisis. Five students from Cornell Law’s Tenants Advocacy Practicum, along with practicum director William Niebel and Michaela Rossettie Azemi, director of Pro Bono Services and Externships, attended the event.
In his Call to Action, issued on August 30, 2021, Garland asked lawyers and law students to take immediate action to help their communities through Emergency Rental Assistance application support, volunteering with legal aid providers, and helping courts implement eviction diversion programs, among other initiatives aimed at increasing housing stability and access to justice. In response, ninety-nine law schools in thirty-five states and Puerto Rico committed to help prevent evictions, and over 2,100 law students dedicated over 81,000 hours to serve over 10,000 households. These efforts helped keep eviction filings 60 percent below historic averages.
Cornell Law’s Tenants Advocacy Practicum made an impact in several landlord-tenant disputes last semester, including one case that went to trial in Ithaca City Court. “It initially looked like a small and simple security deposit case, but it went to trial because the landlord did not take it well . . . [We] had to think fast that morning, because the landlord showed up, without notice, armed with two witnesses and eight exhibits. But we were well prepared, so we won,” says Jong Wook Bae, who attended the White House event along with fellow practicum students Jennifer Seidman, Hyun Lee, Veronica Blascoe, and Hana Yampolsky.
“It was great to see the White House and attorney general recognize the work that the Tenants Advocacy Practicum and Tenants Legal Hotline have done so far,” adds Jennifer Seidman. “With the expiration of the New York eviction moratorium, this work continues to be vital to the health and welfare of the community.”
Speakers at the event included Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff and Attorney General Garland, who told the present law students, “[Y]ou are the new generation of Americans to whom the torch of legal obligation is passed. Your service this past 151 days assures me that the torch remains in good hands.”