Albany Law CEDC Students, Alumna Move Arbor Hill Revitalization Forward

By Lauren Mineau
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A recent real estate transaction was a win-win-win for Albany Law School, the Arbor Hill Development Corporation (AHDC), and the Albany County Land Bank.

Students, working in the Community Economic Development Clinic within The Justice Center at Albany Law School, represented the AHDC as the non-profit purchased 16 vacant properties from the land bank.

It was some of the student’s first hands-on legal experience, while a clinic alumna applied the skills she learned in the same clinic to professional practice.

Louis Bianchi-Breakell ‘21, Lindsey Johnson ‘21, and Ann Phillips ‘22 represented AHDC, under the guidance of Clinic Director Ted De Barbieri and Staff Attorney David Craft. On the seller’s side, former CEDC student Catherine Kemp ’19 represented the land bank. Kemp is an associate at Whiteman Osterman & Hanna.

The 16 properties are located in Albany’s Arbor Hill and West Hill neighborhoods and will be revitalized by the AHDC which is a non-profit that promotes community revitalization efforts and assists low-to-moderate income residents with first-time homebuyer assistance, affordable rentals, and grants to repair community homes.

Each of the students appreciated that a CEDC alum gave them the time and patience they needed during their first experience representing a client.

“It’s great that now I have this level of comfort with things, one day when I go to help my clients after law school,” Johnson said. “Everything we did was so beneficial to us in the long run. So many of the steps in a real estate transaction were all new to me, it was great to have that guidance along the way.”

“She understood where we were coming from, she wasn’t just there as a seller’s attorney. She made us feel as comfortable as possible throughout the entire process,” Bianchi-Breakell said. “It’s all second nature to her now. It was inspiring to see where we might go someday, one day we will be as comfortable.”

“It was great working with other lawyers and dealing with clients who are doing something big like buying or selling property,” Phillips said. “This was really my first hands-on experience after a semester of clinic classes online.”

Everyone involved are lifelong Capital Region residents, so seeing the push to revitalize Albany was particularly moving.

“I have a lot of ties to the area. It makes me appreciate what the clinic is doing even more. They are trying to better the area but also raise everyone up,” Bianchi-Breakell said. “It’s especially important for the Capital Region, it’s a tight-knit community here and we help each other out.”

“I’m proud to see money be invested in the community and staying here in Albany," Phillips said. “That was a really meaningful piece of this project.”

For the AHDC having a helping hand can be the key to moving projects forward.

“The law school has been an absolute gift to our agency and to the community-at-large,” said Arlene Way who is the Executive Director of the AHDC. “They have been the go-to place if we have any questions and if we need guidance. A lot of community-based organizations and not-for-profit organizations are tasked to do a lot of work and a lot of heavy lifting, but we don't have much money. To have the law school as a partner has been an absolute blessing to our experience.”

Beyond the 16-property project, the AHDC is particularly focused on providing access to affordable housing. It is talking about exploring the potential of the properties with local developers.

“I’m so excited. I’m not sure we would have gotten to this phase had it not been for the help of Albany Law walking with us along this process,” Way said. “David [Craft] is always busy connecting our agency with others and resources that can help us move forward. They have helped us with the legal process but they have also taken the additional step of connecting us with resources to help us get this work done.”

For Craft, making those connections to move Albany forward is a part of the job that he holds dear.

“This neighborhood needs quality, affordable housing,” he said. “This whole process really speaks to what we do here, students get the experience that they take with them to their careers while helping out the community.”

For Bianchi-Breakell, Johnson, and Phillips, there’s no doubt the hands-on experience helped them. It helped so much they would like to pay it forward in the future.

“The clinic was really my first introduction to transactions and real estate. It was a great opportunity for providing that hands-on experience,” Kemp said. “It also introduced me to working with opposing counsel, mortgage financing, contracts, deeds, all the elements of a real estate transaction. I’ve had so many great mentors help me. I think it’s so important and it’s something I hope to share with Albany Law students as best I can.”