BUFFALO, N.Y. -- In a run-down section of city street in Niagara
Falls, N.Y. -- flanked by abandoned homes and across from a
shuttered hospital -- a dilapidated old dormitory for nurses is
getting a new start as transitional housing for homeless women and
The building's rehabilitation is being made possible, in large
measure, by the efforts of University at Buffalo law students
attracted to an unglamorous, roll-up-your-sleeves niche of law
practice known as affordable housing, which focuses on helping
nonprofit and community organizations obtain financing to create
low-income and special-needs housing.
"Affordable housing is for students looking for more substantial
elements of law beyond the flash of litigation," explains law
professor George Hezel, director of the UB Law School's Affordable
Housing Clinic. "These students learn to negotiate sensitive
issues, plan and advocate for people, which is really 90 percent of
what lawyers do -- they don't spend all their time litigating."
When the refurbished four-story building is opened in August by
the YWCA of Niagara, it will bring to $150 million the amount of
affordable-housing financing secured by students and faculty
members through UB's Affordable Housing Clinic, says Hezel, who has
run the clinic for 17 years.
"The trick of this project was securing about $1 million in
historic-preservation tax credits," Hezel explains. "Finding that
million paid for amenities that the state Homeless Housing and
Assistance Program and Division of Housing were reluctant to pay
for. It lessened their burden and made the project doable."
In all, Hezel, clinic co-director Sara Faherty and UB law
students secured $5.6 million in financing for the YWCA project
from a mix of tax credits and federal, state and city funding. The
19-unit facility will be called Carolyn's House in memory of
Niagara Falls lawyer Carolyn Van Schaik, killed in a car accident
last year, who helped initiate the YWCA project.
In addition to one-, two- and three-bedroom suites, the new
facility will contain a daycare center and a culinary-arts training
center, which will prepare women for jobs in restaurants around and
in a new casino, located just a few blocks from the facility.
"This is not just housing," says Kathleen Granchelli, executive
director of the YWCA of Niagara, who has spearheaded the project.
"The most important component is moving families from dependence to
independence. They'll have all the support services they need, in
one facility, to move on to the next phase of life with
"This has been an amazingly successful collaboration with the UB
Law School and several other partners," Granchelli adds. "We had a
vision, it didn't seem like it was going to happen at one point,
but now it is. There's no other housing like this in the entire
Created in 1987, the UB clinic is the granddaddy of affordable
housing clinics at U.S. law schools. Its national prominence is why
the clinic was selected as the home base for the American Bar
Association's Journal of Affordable Housing & Community
Today there about two dozen affordable-housing clinics in
operation nationwide, but in the late '80s clinics at UB, Yale and
Seton Hall University pioneered the field, championing a movement
to bring practical work experience into the classroom, while
providing students with meaningful ways to improve their
communities. The UB Law School also offers several other clinics,
including ones addressing family violence, the environment, elder
law and securities law.
"UB's Affordable Housing clinic has long been recognized as an
innovator and a leader, with a record of outstanding
accomplishments," says Robert Solomon, director of clinical studies
at the Yale Law School. "I had the pleasure several years ago of
visiting with the clinic and I was incredibly impressed and
inspired by the clinic's work."
With the YWCA project nearly completed, the UB clinic is deeply
involved in the "most challenging and ambitious project" in its
history, according to Hezel. In partnership with the Buffalo City
Mission, the UB clinic has secured $9.3 million in financing for
creation of a new three-story residence for women who have
substance-abuse problems and their children. Construction of the
122-unit Cornerstone Manor Transitional Housing facility, to be
located on the edge of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus (BNMC) on
North Street in Buffalo, will begin in April and is slated to be
completed 10 months later.
With its on-site medical, counseling and educational facilities,
and its enclosed courtyard playground, the new facility will
replace and significantly expand services offered at the current
60-unit Cornerstone Manor, where overcrowding is a recurring
What's more, demolition of the outdated 60-unit facility --
located within the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus -- will open the
door to future development on the medical campus, which, in turn,
spurs continued growth of Buffalo's emerging life-sciences
industry, Hezel points out.
"I like that this project removes an obstacle to economic
development in Buffalo, while providing something better for
Cornerstone Manor and Buffalo City Mission," he says.
As a side benefit, notes Hezel, proceeds from the sale of the
current manor to the BNMC -- along with a $600,000 developers' fee
earned by the UB clinic and donated to the mansion -- will
contribute to the new facility's operating budget.
"Getting approval for this project involved a fairly
sophisticated bit of persuasion," says Hezel, who personally
pitched the project to state housing agencies in Albany. "It's
taken a couple of years to put all the pieces together and convince
the political power in Western New York and Albany that this should
be a priority.
"This project reflects the clinic's appetite for more and more
interesting and difficult projects," he adds. "And it's a great
teaching event for students."
For their part, UB law students are attracted to the clinic's
work for practical and philosophical reasons. Some students like
E.J. Snyder, a second-year student, mainly enjoy the hands-on,
problem-solving challenges of assembling complex financing
packages; while other students like Melinda Grabowski and Lisa
Goodberry, a former social worker, also enjoy helping people reach
"I'm thinking about affordable housing as a career," says
Grabowski, who is senior editor of the Journal of Affordable
Housing & Community Development Law. "I like figuring out
methods for people to be able to afford what they envision as their
Adds Goodberry, "I love the dynamics of it. I was searching for
something in law that would make a difference in people's
Because of the UB clinic's national reputation, many UB law
graduates move easily into careers in affordable-housing practice
with law firms and real-estate development companies throughout the
state and around the country. UB Law School graduate Juila Solo,
for example, is an associate at New York City's Nixon Peabody LLP,
which has a large national affordable-housing practice,
representing nonprofits, developers and investors.
"For me, studying law was only an option if I could use it to
improve the status quo," Solo says. "Housing is very basic. If
people can afford safe and sanitary housing, many other aspects of
their lives can improve too. It's a building block to a better
life, a better society."
Soon, the UB clinic may expand from affordable housing to other
types of community development projects, Hezel says. He and his
students are investigating development of a free medical center on
Buffalo's East Side.