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CU, Harlem Legal Services Partner to Support Tenant Rights

From left, David Schizer, Columbia Law School dean; Andy Sherer, executive director of Legal Services; Jordi Reyes-Montblanc, Community Board 9 chair; Mary McCune, project attorney; Lee C. Bollinger, Columbia president; Robert Jackson, councilman; and Cornett Lewers, Harlem Legal Services chairman, announce the establishment of the Columbia University-Legal Services for New York City West Harlem Community Advocacy Partnership.

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Columbia University and Harlem Legal Services, a program of Legal Services for New York City (LSNY), announced the launch of  the Columbia University-Legal Services for New York West Harlem Community Advocacy Partnership, a new alliance aimed at strengthening tenant advocacy services. Columbia, through a grant of $300,000 over three years, is funding the service and the project attorney, Mary McCune.  

 "This program ties the work of the University to the work of our community, providing a valuable experience for our students and a beneficial service to our neighbors," said University President Lee C. Bollinger. "Building on the success of the Columbia-Goddard Riverside Tenant Advocacy Program and the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights, this program will further demonstrate how effectively the University and local organizations can partner to address critical needs in our shared community."

The Columbia University-Legal Services for New York City West Harlem Community Advocacy Partnership aims to protect longstanding community residents and economically vulnerable populations living in Community Board District 9, such as senior citizens, the disabled and recent immigrants. To accomplish this goal, the partnership will offer free legal representation and advice to low-income tenants and provide educational workshops that enable community partners to identify and assist at-risk residents. The partnership intends to build ties with existing community groups, conducting outreach and maintaining a visible presence by performing intake in Community Board District 9.

Councilman Robert Jackson said, "I am pleased to join Columbia and The Legal Services Corporation in announcing this new resource which will help defend the rights of low-income residents of Manhattanville. When Columbia asked me a year ago what services were needed in the community, I told them legal services for tenants. I am pleased that they have moved so quickly in making this happen."

Columbia Law students will be able to apply their work with the Columbia-LSNY partnership toward fulfilling their pro bono service requirement. Columbia Law School is one of a select group of law schools nationwide that require all students to perform pro bono work. Most students exceed the 40-hour service commitment, which began as a student initiative before being incorporated as a formal requirement in 1993. Many students, including those in their first year, find that their pro bono work enriches their law school experience and adds relevance to their coursework. By 2004, Columbia students had contributed about 220,000 hours of pro bono service.

 "I have great enthusiasm for our partnership with LSNY," said David Schizer, dean of Columbia Law School. "Our students will do important work in our community, while learning from very gifted and public-spirited lawyers."

Andrew Scherer, executive director and president of Legal Services for New York City said: " We are very pleased about this fantastic new partnership between LSNY and Columbia, which will provide sorely needed expert legal assistance in housing matters to low-income CB–9 residents. And we are fortunate to have Mary McCune, who brings a wealth of experience and skill, as our project attorney. LSNY is very grateful to Columbia for funding this important project and to Columbia law students for volunteering to help us to serve more clients. We look forward to a long and successful partnership."

Upper Manhattan resident Mary McCune, a lawyer with a long history of litigation and advocacy on behalf of tenant rights dating back to the 1980s, has been named the first project attorney.

Accepting the fellowship, McCune said, "Coming back to work in Community Board District 9 is a homecoming for me, since my first jobs after college were in Columbia libraries. This project is essential, because it will give long-term tenants the legal assistance they need to prevent unnecessary evictions, so that the people who built this community and who give it diversity and character can continue to live here."

McCune's experience includes many years of work at Bronx AIDS services as a staff attorney in their Legal Advocacy Program, where she represented people who were HIV-positive in civil proceedings, including housing courts. She has presented workshops on housing law, mediation and HIV law at numerous conferences, as well as conducted housing training for tenants and community based organizations. Additionally, for the past three years, she has testified on behalf of tenants at the annual Rent Guidelines Board hearings. She moved to upper Manhattan in 1985, starting a neighborhood tenant organization there that received widespread media coverage for its successful rally for the preservation of affordable housing. After graduating from law school, Ms. McCune worked as a staff attorney in the housing unit of Bronx Legal Services from 1993-1998.  McCune received her B.A. from Bowdoin College and her J.D. from the University of Connecticut School of Law. She is fluent in Spanish, Russian and French.

Published: May 12, 2005
Last modified: May 13, 2005

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