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The Bar Bulletin
Jax Daily Record Thursday, Sep. 5, 201905:00 AM EST

Pro Bono: Home Sweet Home project secures ownership for heirs

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The need is great and we need your help.

By Sarah Sullivan • Three Rivers Legal Services

Property owners in Florida often live in homes passed down from generation to generation without having addressed legal title or accessing proper court procedures.

It is not until a natural disaster damages the property, or even something as simple as non-payment of property taxes, that brings to light the issue of proper title. Legal issues regarding heirs’ property disproportionately affect families living in low-income communities.

Three Rivers Legal Services Inc. launched the Home Sweet Home project to help resident homeowners in 17 counties in Northeast Florida preserve their ownership interest.

Even in light of the 1968 Fair Housing Act, white homeownership has consistently outpaced minority homeownership. The housing crisis of the past decade disproportionately affected low-income and minority homeowners.

So, not only is it more difficult for a low-income and minority person to purchase a home, it also is more difficult for them to keep it and housing stability is the cornerstone to alleviating poverty.

The driving force of Home Sweet Home is for residents to have safe and secure homeownership. The project reaches out to the most vulnerable homeowners in our service area.

Three Rivers Legal Services offers access to the legal system and a path forward so that homeowners can remain in their homes and provide a secure location for their families now and for future generations.

The project provides community outreach and legal services to address heirs’ property issues with the goal of preparing low-income homeowners for disasters, keeping minority homeowners from losing their property and improving living conditions of neighborhoods with large percentages of heirs’ property.

Issues created by heirs’ property include owners being incapable of making repairs without clear title; owners losing access to federal disaster assistance after a storm without clear title; heirs giving up property without knowing their rights to ownership; owners relinquishing property to the county for unpaid taxes; and homeowners facing foreclosure because heirs are unable to get mortgages or loan modifications without clear title.

The Home Sweet Home project also addresses one of the biggest unmet legal needs: Probate litigation and legal proceedings concerning real property.

The project attorneys are Jacksonville Bar Association members Rachel Rall and LaTonya Lipscomb-Smith. After having their own private practices, they felt the call to use their expertise and talent to serve homeowners through this initiative.

The Home Sweet Home project also is fortunate to have the expertise of Carol Miller, a Jacksonville Area Legal Aid senior staff attorney who has worked with community development and issues surrounding low-income homeownership for several decades.

The need is so great that we need additional help from JBA members in the form of pro bono advocacy. If you are interested in taking on cases ranging from simple estate planning and advance planning documents to probate administration and title clearing litigation, call (904) 423-8966 or visit trls.org.

Would you like to help make a difference in the community? Attorneys interested in pro bono opportunities throughout the 4h Judicial Circuit are encouraged to contact Missy Davenport, chair of the JBA Pro Bono Committee, at [email protected].

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