On December 19, just six days before Christmas Habitat for Humanity of Tompkins and Cortland County sent the Tompkins County Sheriff's Department to evict the residents of 417 S. Aurora Street.
Ithaca residents Kathy Majors and Jim Lukasavage have called the property on the slopes of South Hill their home for years. Kathy was married to the property's previous owner, Richard Majors Sr. When Richard Sr. died in 2009 ownership was transferred to his adult children Doi and Richard Jr.
Kathy made an agreement with Doi and Richard Jr. in 2009 that allowed them to stay on the property as long as they made monthly payments to Doi and her brother. However, Doi recently told the Ithaca Times that she hasn’t received a payment from Kathy for over a decade.
Since nobody was making payments on the property, it was foreclosed on in June 2021 by the City of Ithaca and sold to Habitat for Humanity of Tompkins and Cortland County in August of the same year. The local chapter of Habitat for Humanity has been attempting to evict the residents since August, but the Ithaca Tenants Union has been able to delay the eviction for the last four months after arguing in court that the foreclosure process was improperly conducted.
The Executive Director for the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity, SHannon MacCarrick has said that “foreclosure notices were property sent by the City of Ithaca” but the Tenants Union has said that “the necessary notifications were not sent to the correct addresses.”
This month's long battle came to an abrupt end when Habitat for Humanity sent the sheriff to evict the property's residents while they were away from the site. According to a tweet from the Ithaca Tenants Union, “Kathy was on a walk when the Sheriffs changed the locks. When Kathy returned home, not knowing what happened, Habitat for Humanity’s Executive Director, Shannon Maccarrick, had her arrested for trespassing.”
As the residents were being evicted, weather reports were warning individuals to shelter in place as winter storm Elliot approached with blizzard-like conditions and temperatures as cold as eight degrees Fahrenheit.
Over the last number of weeks, the Ithaca Tenants Union helped organize a GoFundMe to support Kathy that has raised about $8,722. The Tenants Union is not an incorporated organization with a bank account, so the funds raised went entirely to Kathy and her family.
Even though more than $8K was raised to support Kathy, Ithaca Tenants Union member Genevieve Rand told The Ithaca Times, “They can’t just take the money and get a new apartment because it’s really hard to find an affordable apartment in Ithaca.”
Rand continued saying that it’s even more difficult to access new housing if you already have a previous eviction on record, if you have trouble speaking English, or are disabled.
Even though the GoFundMe campaign pushed by the Tenants Union has been able to raise the equivalent of a few months worth of rent for Kathy and her family, it is nearly impossible for them to access housing because voucher programs are difficult to qualify for and landlords have a tendency not to rent to individuals who have an eviction on record and lack consistent income.
According to a report by the Nolo Legal Encyclopedia, landlords can reject prospective tenants for almost any reason “as long as they don’t discriminate.” For example, a landlord can reject a rental application if the applicant has poor credit history, insufficient income, a criminal conviction, or a prior eviction lawsuit — even one that you won.
The Ithaca Tenants Union has said, “Kathy and her family are safe, but it may be months before they are able to find a new home.”