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    11.28.17 Professor Debra Bechtel Honored as ‘Housing Hero’
    Professor Debra Bechtel Honored as ‘Housing Hero’

    Professor Debra Bechtel was recently honored by the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board as a “Housing Hero” for her decades of work to preserve and create affordable housing by providing legal services to low-income cooperatives. Professor Bechtel founded the Corporate and Real Estate Clinic at the Law School in 1997 to help these co-ops obtain loans, eliminate tax arrears, amend corporate documents, and otherwise remain viable. At the same time, students gain invaluable real estate and community development law experience.

    “It’s really great for students to learn about transactions, even if they don’t go into low-income housing law specifically,” Bechtel said.

    The clinic serves about a dozen clients a semester—sometimes involving major transactions on short notice. This fall, two students preparing to close a $500,000 loan for a co-op in the Bronx faced an urgent deadline to get their presentation in front of the shareholders and monitor a vote two days later. “Sometimes, like with this project, you get more of a feeling that you’ve saved a building that was in imminent danger,” Bechtel said.

    Bechtel was honored at the UHAB event in November along with co-op shareholders Vern Ballard, Vera Robinson, and Deborah Sanders; Adele Niederman, Christine Fowley, and Jeanne Poindexter of Cooperates United for Mitchell-Lama; and Daphany Sanchez of the NYC Retrofit Accelerator.

    “Debbie has been and continues to be a champion, rescuer, and savior to so many Housing Development Fund Corporations in our city,” said Enrique Garcia, president of the 370 Hooper St. HDFC, which Bechtel’s clinic has represented for five years. “She is the life saver to our HDFC.”

    Bechtel always knew she wanted to go into public interest law. After a brief stint working in Legal Services in Chicago, she moved to New York and began working in community development law. She has become one of the city’s foremost legal experts in low-income co-ops. She teaches several real estate courses at the Law School, serves as deputy director of the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship (CUBE), and is a member of the New York City Bar Association’s Committee on Cooperatives and Condominiums.