The Maryland Legal Services Corporation has awarded a total of $1 million in grants to nine legal aid organizations that will use the funds to provide foreclosure prevention legal services to low-income residents.
The grant funds come from a portion of the multibillion dollar settlements the U.S. Justice Department reached with Bank of America and Citicorp in 2014, according to MLSC. Funders of civil legal services across the country received a portion of the settlement proceeds.
“This past fiscal year, our funding was down about half a million dollars,” said Susan M. Erlichman, MLSC executive director. “We were looking at a situation that was not very promising, so this money came at a perfect time.”
MLSC, which funds civil legal aid throughout Maryland by making grants to nonprofit organizations, has seen its revenue decrease over the past two years due to low interest rates on attorney trust accounts and proceeds from the court filing fee surcharge coming in lower than expected.
The $1 million in grants also comes just as funds that were awarded to local legal service providers from a 2012 mortgage settlement were running out, Erlichman said. Those funds, which are administered through the state Department of Housing and Community Development, were also earmarked for bolstering foreclosure prevention legal support for homeowners facing eviction proceedings and expanding programs to help those harmed by the nationwide housing crisis.
The nonprofit civil legal services organization Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service received funds from the most recent MLSC grants. The organization was awarded $145,000 to bolster its foreclosure prevention efforts.
“We’ve been a part of the foreclosure prevention scene since 2009,” said Bonnie Sullivan, MVLS executive director. “We have dedicated staff, and those staff support a group of volunteer lawyers who have developed expertise in not only court-related foreclosure activity, but also foreclosure mediations at OAH (the Office of Administrative Hearings).”
Sullivan said the grant money will help the organization increase outreach to potential clients and those at risk of losing their homes as Maryland’s foreclosure rate has remained among the highest in the country.
In October, the state foreclosure rate jumped to No. 1 in the nation, and one in every 466 Maryland housing units had a foreclosure filing, according to real estate data firm RealtyTrac. That rate is more than two-and-a-half times the national foreclosure rate.
“We have on staff a full-time outreach coordinator, and about 50 percent of her time is going to be spent working with community groups in those zip codes and areas where there’s a high foreclosure rate,” Sullivan said.
Along with Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service, Maryland Legal Aid received $450,000; Allegany County Law Foundation, $20,000; Civil Justice Inc., $35,000; Community Legal Services of Prince George’s County, $80,000; Mid-Shore Pro Bono, $15,000; Pro Bono Resource Center, $140,000; Public Justice Center, $50,000; and St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center, $65,000.