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More About the Community Development Law Clinic

The Community Development Law Clinic is one of only a handful of law school clinics nationwide which provide students the opportunity to represent not-for-profit housing and community organizations involved in affordable housing development and community economic development for people with low incomes. The Community Development Law Clinic was founded in 1988 with a grant from the United States Department of Education Clinical Legal Experience Program. Since 1989, Professor Deborah Kenn has directed the Community Development Law Clinic, which upon the conclusion of the United States Department of Education grant in 1992, has been funded in full by the College of Law.

Community economic development (including the development of jobs and housing for low income people) has been at the forefront of the fight against poverty over the last twenty years. Community economic development (CED) recognizes that the problem of poverty is a systemic one and needs to be addressed with systemic solutions. Through CED efforts, low income communities have struggled against community deterioration with the help of nonprofit, community-based organizations creating job and housing opportunities in a comprehensive approach to community revitalization. The availability of legal representation from the Community Development Law Clinic is often the crucial element in an organization's ability to create a structure and develop the capacity to carry out its work. Students in the Community Development Law Clinic also represent first time homebuyers purchasing housing renovated or built with state or federal housing grants. The Community Development Law Clinic is currently the only transactional law clinic within the Office of Clinical Programs and the students enrolled in this year-long clinic apply corporate, tax, real estate, landlord/tenant, administrative, and poverty law in their practice. The work of the Community Development Law Clinic provides legal assistance to community and neighborhood organizations working to improve living conditions for low income people.

The Community Development Law Clinic represents a wide variety of client organizations accomplishing housing and economic development in the City of Syracuse and throughout Central New York. A sampling of the clinic's clients includes:

  • A neighborhood housing organization incorporated as a community land trust which buys land, rehabilitates houses on the land and sells the houses while maintaining ownership of the land. In this way, the organization provides permanently affordable housing for low income families.
  • Another Community Development Law Clinic client is developing land in a rural county in socially and ecologically sound ways. The land consists of farmland, forest and wetlands and will be developed for sustainable agriculture, affordable housing, worker and consumer cooperatives and educational programs.
  • An organization formed by urban Native Americans who wish to promote the social, cultural, political and economic well-being of North American Indians is another Community Development Law Clinic client.
  • An affiliate of a national organization that works with local groups providing job skills training and preparation to people who are unemployed and underemployed is a client of the Community Development Law Clinic.
  • Community Development Law Clinic students also represent organizations that aim to promote community economic development, including business, microenterprise and job development in their communities.
  • An association started by people from four religious congregations with the purpose of assisting a diverse community by developing job training programs, education and life skills training has received representation from the clinic.
  • The Community Development Law Clinic represents a not-for-profit corporation which it helped to create a clearinghouse of information on affordable housing development. It has an active Board including government officials, representatives of neighborhood housing organizations, bankers and real estate developers. A few years ago, the Clinic wrote a manual of Funding Initiatives and Funding Sources for Affordable Housing Development with its funding and support. During 1996-97, all of the students worked on updating portions of the 2nd edition of the Funding Affordable Housing: Sources and Ideas manual.
  • The Community Development Law Clinic also represents a client organization working primarily with people of limited financial means and community organizations to promote cooperative economic development and organize cooperatives. Students are assisting an organization wanting to create day care centers in neighborhoods with a predominance of families who are economically disadvantaged and providing day care at sliding scale rates.
  • Another Community Development Law Clinic client is a community development corporation working to improve a business district, create employment opportunities for people with limited incomes, and revitalize the neighborhood.
  • The Community Development Law Clinic students represent an organization which has been organizing the south side neighborhood of Syracuse for years and operates after-school and educational programs for children and young adults and also assists families in accessing education, employment, housing and health.

The student attorneys enrolled in the Community Development Law Clinic represent the clients in all aspects of their corporate, tax, business, and real estate law matters. Some of the tasks student attorneys undertake include: advising clients on corporate structure; incorporations; drafting of by-laws; application to the I.R.S. for tax status; real estate closings; lease and contract drafting; researching complex legal matters and drafting memoranda for clients; negotiating with city, state, and federal regulatory agencies; and training Boards of Directors. Representation of clients is as varied as the practice of transactional law.

The Community Development Law Clinic is unique among clinics and presents an exciting opportunity for students to practice transactional law while fighting the systemic causes of poverty. The Community Development Law Clinic takes a comprehensive approach to client representation providing students with invaluable experience and the community with outstanding representation.