New Orleans Title Clearing Collaborative
In May 2011, the Community Development Project (CDP) launched its New Orleans Title Clearing Collaborative, a program developed with local partners Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, The Pro Bono Project, and Louisiana Appleseed. The initiative involves direct legal assistance, education and outreach, and policy reform, as well as drafting a training manual for attorneys and development of a clinical project.
Visit savenolahomes.org or click on the links below to read more about this initiative:
As homeowners on the Gulf Coast recover from multiple and compounding disasters, thousands of low-income homeowners in New Orleans continue to face significant barriers to accessing rebuilding grants and returning to their homes. One of the biggest problems is the lack of clear title to a property: without clear ownership, lenders will not lend, and the state will not make grants. In many cases, this means that homeowners are excluded from recovery money, repairs cannot be made, and damaged houses continue to deteriorate to the point of becoming blighted and unsalvageable. Moreover, those who have left often cannot secure homeownership to return. In this way, entire communities, not just individual homeowners, suffer the consequences of title issues.
Throughout years of work assisting residents in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region, the Lawyers’ Committee has found that obstacles stemming from title issues consistently surface as a major concern and need. The Committee’s focus on the Gulf Coast began after Hurricane Katrina hit shore. Within weeks of the storm's landfall, the Committee had launched the Disaster Survivors Legal Assistance Initiative to provide legal support to local housing and community development organizations, as well as to hundreds of individuals. Between 2006 and 2008, the Lawyers’ Committee led a title-clearing initiative on the Mississippi Gulf Coast which mobilized dozens of volunteer attorneys to assist more than 100 families to clear title and unlock nearly $2 million in federal funds. This initiative is the latest expansion of the Lawyers' Committee's legal assistance in New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Thousands of Road Home applicants have not received benefits because of title/heirship issues. Thousands more withdrew their applications or were deemed ineligible, many possibly because they did not have good title and were unable to access legal assistance. Applicants may still be able to obtain assistance if they clear their title problems.
Moreover, blight is a persistent challenge in New Orleans; a recent count shows approximately 44,000 blighted homes or empty lots and another 9,300 vacant but habitable housing units, or one in four residential addresses. It is likely that hundreds or thousands of homeowners have been unable to repair, rebuild or return to their homes because the lack of clear title has made it impossible to obtain insurance, bank loans, federal grants, or even volunteer labor from nonprofit organizations. In several neighborhoods, population still hovers at or below the 50% mark from the pre-Katrina figure.
This two-year initiative will help homeowners in Orleans Parish clear title to their property, enabling them to finally rebuild and make productive use of their land. The initiative will:
- provide direct legal assistance to residents, as well as education and outreach to homeowners to aid in resolving property title issues;
- advocate for policy reform at the state and local level in order to remove systemic barriers to clearing title, preserving homes and restoring neighborhood; and
- compile and release a training manual for attorneys and develop a law school clinical project to continue this assistance into the future.
The title clearing initiative is made possible by a generous grant from the Greater New Orleans Foundation’s (GNOF) Community Revitalization Fund (www.gnof.org). The grant enables the assembled partners to better determine unmet need and channel their pro bono resources and expertise in heir property and title problems to assist low-income homeowners by clearing title, consolidating ownership, and securing federal rebuilding and repair grants.
CDP's partners on this initiative are:
- Southeast Louisiana Legal Services (SLLS), a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, is the largest public interest law firm in Louisiana. Its mission is to achieve justice for low-income people by enforcing and defending their rights through civil legal aid, advocacy and community education. For more information about the SLLS, visit www.slls.org.
- The Pro Bono Project (PBP) was developed in 1986 as a program of the Louisiana Bar Foundation, tapping a previously unused resource by utilizing the local private bar. In 1991, PBP became an independent 501(c)(3) charitable organization. PBP is now the largest pro bono project in the state, and it serves six of the 10 parishes served by SLLS, helping the working poor, low-income families and elderly clients gain access to lawyers to resolve civil legal issues. For more information about the PBP, visit www.probono-no.org.
- Louisiana Appleseed is a pro bono-focused 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to solving problems at the root cause. Its projects seek to increase access to opportunity, education and justice. Appleseed leverages the talent of volunteer professionals to effect structural change through research, analysis, advocacy and outreach. For more information about Louisiana Appleseed, visit louisiana.appleseednetwork.org.