A roof over one’s head is a basic necessity, but many low-income Americans live in substandard, even dangerous, housing. They may face unfair landlord practices, seriously defective living conditions, predatory lending and other housing scams. They may be at risk of homelessness.
On an annual, nationwide basis, more than 25 percent of the cases handled by the local nonprofit legal aid programs funded by LSC involve housing law issues, such as landlord-tenant disputes. LSC programs in recent years have increasingly taken on the vexing problem of foreclosures, to help families stay in their homes and to resolve mortgage-related issues.
Foreclosure laws vary by state, and LSC programs are well-suited to help low-income homeowners and renters. With legal assistance, low-income Americans can renegotiate the terms of their loans, assert truth-in-lending protections, enforce eviction notification laws, file bankruptcy to stop an imminent sale, and provide counseling through federally certified housing programs.
Several LSC programs have become well-known for their work, which is often labor-intensive and complex, on foreclosure matters. They include Atlanta Legal Aid, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Legal Services of Greater Miami, Legal Aid Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago, Indiana Legal Services, Iowa Legal Services, Legal Services NYC and the LSC programs in western and eastern Missouri.
Pine Tree Legal Assistance in Maine was at the center of a major court ruling in 2010. A volunteer lawyer affiliated with the LSC program discovered that proper procedures were not followed in a foreclosure action, triggering foreclosure suspensions in 23 states by large lenders.
Several LSC programs provide housing counseling to homeowners who seek it; others work with housing counselors to advise them when to refer homeowners to lawyers to review their problems. In recent years, West Tennessee Legal Services has sponsored several counseling projects through NeighborWorks America, the congressionally-chartered nonprofit organization dedicated to improving distressed communities. LSC programs also have participated on state Supreme Court commissions that have led to the establishment of mediation programs for foreclosures.
Thanks to the hard work by legal aid attorneys around the nation, thousands of low-income Americans have averted homelessness and numerous neighborhoods have escaped the blight of further foreclosures.