SC Appleseed to Host Series of Public Forums re: Foreclosure

Hot off the press!

SC Appleseed Legal Justice Center will host a series of three public forums around the state in response to the foreclosure crisis. Check the flyer below for more information.

~RFW

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Guess

What do Harvest Hope and SC foreclosures have in common?

If you guessed that South Carolina has seen a marked increase in foreclosures and requests for food have markedly increased, you win!

According to the Columbia Regional Business Report (CRBR):

South Carolina’s foreclosure rate from July to August 2009 was up 1.94%, reported national real estate tracking company RealtyTrac.com. That number is more than 78% higher than it was one year ago.

According to Harvest Hope:

In the first quarter of 2009, Harvest Hope experienced a 142%  increase in the number of families needing assistance.

Earlier today I attended a fundraiser luncheon for Harvest Hope. It made me focus on how the problems faced by so many living in poverty are faces of our neighbors, our friends, our loved ones.

The “featured” speaker at the luncheon was someone who had been working – two jobs. Two good, solid jobs. Then she got ill. Which started the medical bills and absence from work. Which caused her to lose her jobs. Both jobs. The bills kept coming. When it came to paying bills, she used her money for medical bills and medication. Then she lost her home. She stopped eating so much. That made her sicker. Then she found Harvest Hope.

She was able to eat.

The doctors are still trying to figure out what is “wrong” with her. In the meantime, she can eat. Without Harvest Hope and the necessary nutrition it provides, she would be even more sick.

While these societal problems may not be legal, I guarantee that the Legal Aid Telephone Intake Service (LATIS) has been referring people to Harvest Hope.

And once people have nutrition and can think about something other than an empty belly, then they may call LATIS for assistance with a problem with their Landlord. Or maybe for help with their Medicaid benefits. Or help with a way to escape their abusive spouse.

-RFW

5 States Receive ProBono.Net Award

What do Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Minnesota, and New York have in common?

Sounds like the start of a joke, but it’s not. If it were, they would be laughing all the way to the bank.

Instead ProBono.Net has awarded these five states’ legal services organizations developing innovative online document assembly projects through its NPADO Demonstration Project.  The projects address legal issues including foreclosure, criminal expungement and the needs of the Spanish-speaking community.

To read more, click here.

Congratulations!

-RFW

Lawyers Stepping Up to Help Families Keep Their Homes

You may have noticed that a couple of recent posts below reference the home foreclosure crisis.  With the growing number of foreclosures in South Carolina and across the United States it is no wonder the housing market is such a hot topic. 

One of the links referenced below is a story from NPR: Lawyers Make Pro Bono Leap into Foreclosures.  It is the story of a man named Mirkab.  Mirkab is a hard working man who ended up with two homes because just as his family purchased a new home and attempted to sell their old home, the market began to crash and they were unable to sell their second home.  Like many other hardworking Americans, Mirkab is trying as hard as he can to keep his finances in good standing, but battling with the mortgage lenders on his own was getting him nowhere.  The story highlights the generosity of lawyers who have responded to the mortgage crisis by doing pro bono work for clients like Mirkab.  With so many families in the same position as Mirkab’s family, we need even more lawyers to step up and take these cases.

According to the National League of Cities 1 in every 374 housing units were part of a foreclosure filing in April 2009.  Due to this insurmountable number, pro bono lawyers willing to tackle the mortgage crisis are desperately needed.  For attorneys who do not specialize in this area of law the learning curve is steep, so a number of organizations across the country are finding ways to make it easier for attorneys to step up and take on these cases.   At probono.net there are resources for attorneys interested in these pro bono cases including templates for legal documents and links to state specific resources.  The Pro Bono Institute reports that legal service programs are typically the only access to the legal system that the poor and those of modest means have.  Foreclosure cases are swamping their work load and pro bono help is needed to share the responsibility.

The Center for Responsible Lending created the Institute for Foreclosure Legal Assistance that awards grants to non-profits and legal aid offices that with adequate resources can help those suffering from the housing crisis.  The grants range from 250,000 to 300,000 and are dispersed over a 3 year period.

The housing crisis hits close to home for many South Carolinians.  The Post and Courier in Charleston, SC ran an article in February telling how Family Services, Inc. was awarded $1.7 million from the National Foreclosure Mitigation Council.  Recipients of the monies included Appleseed, South Carolina Legal Services and Charleston Pro Bono Services.  These programs and this type of funding certainly help to put a dent in the aid needed, but there is much more required if individuals are going to get the legal help they need.

As Robin posted below, the South Carolina Supreme Court lifted the TRO on foreclosures as of Friday.  The Order lifting the TRO  lays out specific steps that must be followed and items that must be included within the court documents to determine whether an individual mortgage qualifies for President Obama’s Home Affordable Modification Program.  The need for attorneys who are knowledgeable about the recent legislation and court orders dealing with the mortgage crisis as well as South Carolina Foreclosure law to take on these pro bono cases is great.  Thank you for all of those working so hard to work within the legal system to find solutions for those struggling with a home foreclosure.

-Allie

Save the Dream Tour Brings Hope to Homeowners

When: MARCH 13th – 16th

Where: Columbia, SC

What: NACA Save the Dream Event allows some homeowners to restructure their mortgages the same day

Hosted by: Representative James Clyburn

Cost:  FREE

Thousands line up to meet with Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America (NACA) counselors to discuss their mortgages and keep their homes. According to an article in the Columbia Regional Business Report (CRBR), more than 10,000 people participated in the first three days of the Save the Dream event. NACA’s role is to work with homeowners and lenders to stave off foreclosures; often by reducing mortgage rates.

U.S. House Majority Whip James Clyburn was instrumental in bringing the group to Columbia. According to the CRBR report, Rep. Clyburn noted that “homeownership is the most widespread access to wealth in this country.”

According to an article in The State, 202 counselors were on hand to evaluate each homeowner’s situation; which averaged 45 minutes per case.

Even though the special event ends today, NACA will continue its work in South Carolina at its offices in Columbia and Charleston as well as its nearby offices in Augusta, Georgia and Charlotte, North Carolina.

If you are a homeowner and have questions, click here or call toll-free 1-888-302-NACA. Information is also available in Spanish here. (Español aquí)

-RFW

South Carolina sighs “Sometimes it’s good to be outside the top 10” – Foreclosure News

It’s usually a good thing to be a leader.  But every now and then, it pays off to be in the middle of the pack. This is one of those times for South Carolina.

South Carolina is NOT a Top 10 Leading State in Foreclosures!*

Who leads the nation in foreclosures?

California leads, followed by Florida, Arizona, Illinois, Nevada, Michigan, Ohio, Georgia, Texas, Virginia.

Although South Carolina does not lead the nation, our state courts are receiving record filings in the foreclosure arena; many by self-represented litigants.  Many legal and social service providers continue to work with people to save their homes.

Trend information is available online at the RealtyTrac where they track foreclosure information. You can access blogs and other information about foreclosures at this site.

-RFW

For information on a foreclosure ticker, check out my previous post. For a different website with an interactive foreclosure map, visit here.

* According to http://www.realtytrac.com/TrendCenter/Default.aspx?address=.

It’s Time. Time to Talk about UNBUNDLED Legal Services.

Unbundled Legal Services

aka Limited Scope Legal Representation

If you’ve been watching the news lately, you’ve noticed we appear to be in somewhat of a fiscal crisis. A meltdown. A mess. A recession.

Sure, sure. But what does that have to do with the law? Well, it seems that with this financial hiccup, this financial blip, this financial snarfle has profound impact on the daily lives of individuals. The impact results in loss of jobs, loss of homes, loss of medical insurance, loss of transportation, destroying marriages in its wake, affecting many.

Much of the loss involves court action – unemployment actions, foreclosure actions, bankruptcy and collection filings, divorce actions, etc. In the past many of these individuals would seek assistance from attorneys who are well-versed in the laws affecting their clients.

This is NOT occurring in this era of Judge Judy, Judge Joe Brown and other DIY shows. Instead people are flocking into courtrooms themselves, without expert counsel. These individuals may be called Self-Represented Litigants (SRLs) or Pro Se Litigants or Pro Per Litigants. In this blog you’ve seen reference to SRLs.

Well, why is this worthy of a column?

  • Because unfortunately many of these individuals are heading into court thinking that they operate similarly to what has been shown on television and that is generally NOT how the court operates.
  • Because many are heading into court not understanding the consequences of the litigation.
  • Because many do not understand the court rules.
  • Because many do not know where to even FIND court rules.
  • Because attorneys have this knowledge and are not able to share their knowledge because of the perception of high costs.
  • Because this will lead to even more barriers to justice which will lead to greater perception that the courts only help people or companies with lots of money.

And that pains me. And it pains many of my attorney friends.

Sure, there’s always a greedy attorney joke out there. About an Ambulance chaser. About a Scheister/Shyster.

Go ahead. Tell the joke, even if it’s in your head. Laugh or chuckle a bit. Then come back to this blog.

Welcome back. Contrary to all you’ve read or heard, MOST, MOST, not all, but MOST attorneys enter the profession to help. It may be to help a specific person – maybe a family member. It may be to help a group of people. And, if you think about it, law and attorneys function precisely TO ASSIST.

Which leads to my attorney friends.

BIG DISCLAIMER: I AM AN ATTORNEY. MY HUSBAND IS ALSO AN ATTORNEY. MY COUSIN IS AN ATTORNEY. MY BROTHER HAS HIS LAW LICENSE.

I have many friends who are currently practicing law. Some are practicing in large firms. Others are solo practitioners. Yet others are government attorneys. And many of them work for non-profit legal service entities.

And we’re all talking. (ok, attorneys do love to talk) We’re all talking about the economy. We’re talking about most of us would not be able to afford to hire ourselves. This is where we all have the nervous giggle, no more of a titter.

It’s true. That’s why I say, it’s time to seriously consider UNBUNDLED LEGAL SERVICESThe term refers to a broad range of discrete tasks that an attorney might undertake such as: advice, negotiation, document review, document preparation and limited representation.

This will not abate the current fiscal crisis, but it may help people as they enter the civil legal system. Any other ideas? Anyone?

-RFW

To read about Unbundled Legal Service in Canada recently in the news, click here.