Foundation, W.K. Kellogg offer free service to clear property titles
The Baton Rouge Area Foundation, with support from a W.K. Kellogg Foundation grant, is underwriting a program to help people clear property titles, potentially making them eligible for thousands of dollars in federal grants for repairing their flood-damaged houses.
Thousands of people live in homes that they don’t own outright because properties were passed on to family members without successions. This free program will find all potential heirs to the properties and ask them to sign over their ownership—typically small amounts—to the person living in the home.
With clear title, homeowners may draw down money for rebuilding homes that were damaged in the Great Flood of 2016. FEMA has denied funding to more than 2,500 people in disaster-declared parishes who couldn’t prove home ownership.
People can apply for assistance at apply.lanonprofitjustice.org, or by calling 1-844-244-7871.
Together, BRAF and Kellogg have committed $550,000 for the legal service. Also contributing are Capital Area United Way, Greater New Orleans Foundation and Louisiana Bar Foundation. Rules of the program: the flood-impacted home must be the resident’s primary residence and located in East Baton Rouge, Livingston or Ascension parishes, be a sound structure, and the applicant must meet income eligibility levels.
The aim is to clear 500 titles, while searching for ongoing funding to continue the program.
“Our goal over the next year is to secure permanent funding to continue this program as long as it’s needed,” said Lauren Crapanzano Jumonville, Baton Rouge Area Foundation project manager. “Turning people into homeowners has proven to be among the best mechanisms for reclaiming neighborhoods.”
The Foundation has collaborated with the American Bar Association Center for Innovation and Stanford University Law School to create a smartphone app to make the process more efficient. Applicants using the app can get a head start by offering their personal information and gathering some required documents. The app will not only speed up the process but also reduce the amount of time spent with attorneys and other professionals, letting them clear even more property titles in the next year.
Overseeing the program is Southeast Louisiana Legal Services. For the work, SLLS is partnering with other organizations: Baton Rouge Bar Foundation, Southern University Law Center, LSU Law Clinic, Baton Rouge Bar Association, Louisiana Appleseed, Equal Justice Works, Louisiana State Bar Association, Louisiana Bar Foundation and East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority.
"Civil legal aid is an essential, yet often overlooked, component of disaster recovery for lower-income people and communities,” said Laura Tuggle, executive director of SLLS. “We know the importance of tackling unresolved title problems that pose a barrier to recovery funding, insurance proceeds, and a family's ability to obtain capital to rebuild their homes. We are so grateful to the Baton Rouge Area Foundation for investing in justice to help families and neighborhoods rebound after disaster."