Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS) Announces Sheila J. Stewart to its Board of Directors

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Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS) Announces New Member to its Board of Directors

BALTIMORE, April. 8, 2022 – Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS), the state’s largest provider of pro bono legal services, today announced the election of a new board member–attorney Sheila J. Stewart. MVLS’ Board of Directors is responsible for governance and directing the organization’s strategic plan to deliver life changing pro bono legal services to Marylanders. In addition, board members serve as MVLS volunteers and are generous supporters of its mission.

“We are thrilled to have Sheila join the MVLS board” said MVLS’ Executive Director, Susan Francis. “Sheila has demonstrated a deep commitment to MVLS for several years and has prioritized providing access to justice through pro bono since she graduated from law school. I have no doubt she will bring that same commitment and vision to her board membership.”

Ms. Stewart has accepted 25 MVLS cases since 2018, including expungement and family law matters. In 2021, her efforts were recognized at MVLS’ Celebrate Pro Bono, where Stewart Law & Associates received the Law Firm of the Year award. Ms. Stewart has been a stalwart volunteer, proactively accepting cases throughout the pandemic to ensure continued support of MVLS clients.

Shelia J. StewartSheila J. Stewart is Associate Corporate Counsel for Amazon Services LLC where she provides accurate and timely counsel to businesses on a variety of legal issues regarding marketing, privacy, and compliance. Outside of her practice, she volunteers with other organizations, previously serving as Executive Board Member (President) for the Good Hope Estates Civic Association and currently serving as a Member of the NAACP Parent Council in Montgomery County, MD. In addition, Ms. Stewart serves as Parent Teacher Student Association President at Briggs Chaney Middle School. Ms. Stewart earned her J.D. from the University of Baltimore School of Law.

 

 

To learn more about MVLS programs and volunteer opportunities, please visit our website.

About Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS)
Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS) removes barriers to justice through free civil legal help, community engagement, and advocacy for equitable laws. The organization matches clients with volunteer lawyers, tax professionals and staff attorneys who represent them in a wide range of consumer finance, family and housing situations, including foreclosure, bankruptcy, divorce/custody, deed changes, as well as income tax disputes, estate planning, and criminal record relief. MVLS advocates for racial equity in Maryland’s legal system and works in concert with community partners to move toward a fair legal system that is free of injustice and equitably serves underrepresented Marylanders. For more information about MVLS, please visit our website

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Media Contacts:

Susan Francis, Esq.                                                                                       
Executive Director 
phone: 443-451-4095
sfrancis@mvlslaw.org 

Chandler Walters 
Communications & Outreach Manager 
phone: 443-451-4084
email: cwalters@mvlslaw.org
                            

Important Resources Are Available to Help Stabilize Housing

Local and State Housing, Tax and Water Discount Programs and Clinics  

MVLS logo

Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS) emphasizes the importance of investing in our community partners and building strong relationships through outreach and advocacy. Spring is nearly here, which means tax season has arrived making it all the more important to connect residents with critical resources. Several programs have been recently rolled out from the state of Maryland and the City of Baltimore including the Water4All Discount Program, Maryland Homeowner Assistance Fund, and the Statewide Water Delinquency Program. In addition, to state and city programs there are local organizations like MVLS and Securing Older Adult Resources (SOAR). Here’s the information you need to know to help us spread the word.  

Water 4 All Program  – Baltimore City 

What is it? 

This new water assistance program provides a monthly discount for water and sewer costs based on a percentage of residents’ income for Baltimore City Residents. Homeowners and Renters are available. For the first time, tenants who do not directly pay their water bills are eligible to apply for water payment assistance.  

Where do I find more information?  

Find more information here – Water4All | City of Baltimore (baltimorecity.gov) 

How do I apply? 

Apply direct on Water4All | City of Baltimore (baltimorecity.gov) or call (410)-369-5555 

The Emergency Mortgage & Housing Assistance Program (EMHAP) – Baltimore City

What is it?  

EMHAP provides further assistance to Baltimore City homeowners whose homes are at risk of foreclosure due to economic hardship related to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Where do I find more information?  

Find more information here – Emergency Mortgage & Housing Assistance Program | Baltimore City Department of Housing & Community Development 

How do I apply?   

You can apply for EMHAP online at Neighborly Software. Click on the Register tab and register for a free account with your name and email. After registering, click Sign In to enter your email and password. Then, under Start a New Application, click Emergency Mortgage & Housing Assistance Program.

If you need assistance, call the LIGHT Intake & Assessment Unit at 410-396-3023. If you do not wish to complete the application online, you can download and print the application, or you can pick up a paper application from us at 417 E. Fayette St., Suite 1125.

Maryland Homeowner Assistance Fund (HAF) 

What is it?  

The Maryland HAF helps homeowners who need assistance with paying their mortgage, property taxes, and ground rent. Additionally, the homeowner assistance fund provides help to in need of home repairs or weatherization to remain in their homes.  

Where do I find more information?  

Find more information here – Maryland Homeowner Assistance Fund 

How do I apply?   

Apply directly at Maryland HAF or call 833-676-0119, Mon-Fri 8 am to 7pm and Sat 9am to 4pm.   

Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP) 

What is it?  

The LIHWAP is available statewide and provides Maryland households with financial relief toward water and/or wastewater bills. Eligible households may receive up to $2,000. LIHWAP funding is limited, and applications will be accepted on a first come, first served basis. 

Where do I find more information?  

You can find more information about the program here – Low Income Household Water Assistance Program – Maryland Department of Human Services 

How do I apply?   

You can apply for LIHWAP assistance online using the consumer portal at mymdthink.maryland.gov. If you are unable to apply online, you may request an application be mailed to you through the service hotline at 1-800-332-6347 or by calling your local Department of Social Services or Office of Home Energy Programs office. A printable paper application can be found at their website

SOAR With Maryland’s Consumer Rights Coalition   

Securing Older Adult Resources (SOAR) supports the financial wellbeing of older adults. They can help you receive a renters’ tax credit which could result in a credit of $1,000 to income-eligible renters. If your name is on the deed, you may be eligible for a homeowners’ tax credit which will cap your property tax. To learn more information and apply please visit Take the Credit — Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition (marylandconsumers.org) or call their tax credit hotline directly at (443)-961-6220. 

MVLS and GBMC Partner to Help Baltimore City Residents Age in Place

New $25,000 Grant Awarded to MVLS will Help Address Social Determinants of Health Through Strategic Outreach Campaign

Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS), the largest provider of pro bono civil legal services in Maryland, announced a new first-of-its-kind partnership with the Greater Baltimore Medical Center (GBMC) to provide critical legal services to older adults living in neighborhoods that surround the hospital, including in and around the Waverly and Greenmount areas. MVLS will offer free civil legal assistance to residents to ensure the health of their homes are maintained to help these individuals safely age in place. This includes proper estate planning to keep home titles untangled, access to important tax credits and relief funds, and use of the City’s home repair programs to make important home modifications, like wheelchair ramps, grab bar installations and other harm-reduction adjustments. This work is made possible by a generous $25,000 grant from GBMC, and the hospital’s commitment of renewed funding for a second year.

“We are excited to partner with GBMC as we have a shared vision to help stabilize older adults, so they can age independently at home,” said Susan Francis, executive director, Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS). “When considering social determinants of health, we recognize that the health of the home—the upkeep, bills and property titling—must be maintained to give adults the best chances at aging in place. We look forward to working with our network of trusted community partners to inform Baltimore City residents about pro bono legal services available to help stabilize their families, housing and finances, which will result in better health outcomes.”

Community Outreach

GMWC Dumpster Day MVLS will engage its network of community partners and local organizations, including Central Baltimore Partnership, the 29th St. Community Center, East Baltimore Midway, Greenmount West Community Association, and Rebuilding Together Baltimore, to inform and inspire residents about the role legal services can play in their aging process. MVLS’ legal services play an important role in stabilizing individuals and families by helping them:

  • Avoid foreclosure and tax sale through tax sale clinics and the Homeowner’s Assistance Fund (HAF) grant
  • Resolve ground rent issues
  • Stop exploitative debt harassment
  • Assign a power of attorney to help avoid financial exploitation
  • Resolve deed issues through the My Home, My Deed, My Legacy program, so older adults can utilize modification programs that reduce fall risks and promote mobility

The education campaign will feature the creation of outreach materials and resource guides for local organizations and service providers. In addition, MVLS will participate in outreach and education events, including presentations at local community centers, and the campaign will include access to MVLS’ free legal services to help address their challenges.     

“We are embracing a broader view of what happens to our older patients when they leave the care of our hospital and return to their local neighborhood. We recognize that adults need stable and reliable housing, so they can age in place longer,” commented Catherine Hamel, president, Gilchrist and executive vice president of Continuing Care, GBMC HealthCare. “With MVLS’ help, we are hopeful more adults will have the services and programs needed to maintain and renovate their homes as their abilities and needs change, so they can comfortably and safely remain in their homes and with the people they love.”

To learn more about the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service, its programs and ways to volunteer, please visit www.mvlslaw.org.

About Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS)

Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS) removes barriers to justice through free civil legal help, community engagement, and advocacy for equitable laws. The organization matches clients with volunteer lawyers, tax professionals and staff attorneys who represent them in a wide range of consumer finance, family and housing situations, including foreclosure, bankruptcy, divorce/custody, deed changes, as well as income tax disputes, estate planning, and criminal record relief. MVLS advocates for racial equity in Maryland’s legal system and works in concert with community partners to move toward a fair legal system that is free of injustice and equitably serves underrepresented Marylanders. For more information about MVLS, please visit www.mvlslaw.org.

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Media Contacts
Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service 
Andrea Martin
Phone: 443.927.6183
Email: andrea@consultmartin.com 

Media Coverage – Maryland The Daily Record ; City Biz 

May 2022 Volunteer of the Month

Jo Ann Camm

We’re proud to recognize Jo Ann Camm as the May 2022 Volunteer of the Month. Read on to learn more about Jo Ann and her experience as an MVLS volunteer. 

Why do you choose to volunteer with MVLS? 
I believe everyone should have access to a lawyer when they have a legal issue.

Do you have any stand out stories?
I had two recent cases where an interpreter was needed because my clients spoke an African language. One of which I had a two-day trial via Zoom. That was a first for me.

What is your favorite part about volunteering with MVLS?
I appreciate the feedback from my clients and how grateful they are for my help.

Why should other attorneys do pro bono?
I believe it is our duty to give back and help those who may not receive the help otherwise. I grew up with limited means and understand the importance of receiving professional advice.

Where do you see the Impact of civil legal services in the next ten years? 
With inflation, pandemic, and the state of our country, many people will need civil legal services and many will not be able to afford to pay for the services they need.

 

April 2022 Volunteer of the Month

Christina Moore
We’re proud to recognize Christina Moore as the April 2022 Volunteer of the Month. Read on to learn more about Christina and her experience as an MVLS volunteer. 

Why do you choose to volunteer with MVLS? 
MVLS empowers me, through their resources, to provide representation to clients. I’ve been most interested in advocating for people who have a criminal record and who are seeking a fresh start through the expungement process, and I appreciate the training MVLS provides and that professional liability insurance is extended to me as a volunteer.

Do you have any stand out stories?
I’ve been inspired by my clients, and each of their experiences is unique. One client has a fantastic vision for his future, and will need to seek relieve through a governor’s pardon for a gun possession charge in his youthful adult years to fully obtain a fresh start. One client is now a mother, and will have one less barrier for future opportunities once her expungement petition is granted.

What is your favorite part about volunteering with MVLS?
Getting to meet my clients and being entrusted with the vulnerability that is a part of each of their experiences, and getting to contribute to their movement forward.

Why should other attorneys do pro bono?
I view lawyering as encompassing a breadth of ways we get to uplift the voices of others. We are most known for what we file and argue in court to obtain a specific ruling or order, and that’s certainly what I’ve been doing in assisting clients with expungements, but the “why” has more to do with the voices and perspectives we get to uplift in our profession that simultaneously help shape our views of justice and our commitment to it.

Where do you see the Impact of civil legal services in the next ten years? 
I think the needs are going to remain similar- areas of law impacting employment, housing, family structures, entitlement to government benefits. However, I would like to see an amendment to the Legal Services Corporation Act regarding the restrictions on legal services funded through the Act because several restrictions on services create barriers in areas where people experiencing indigency need their voices heard the most.

 

March 2022 Volunteer of the Month

Geldermann, Esq.

We’re proud to recognize Edward Geldermann as the March 2022 Volunteer of the Month. Read on to learn more about Brad and his experience as an MVLS volunteer. 

Why do you choose to volunteer with MVLS? 
With each passing year, it has become increasingly obvious that the advantages, opportunities, benefits and privileges that have somehow befallen me were blessings not entitlements, and this awareness has created in me a strong impulse to assist those far less privileged.

Do you have any stand out stories?
Not yet. I am eager to see how my relationship with MVLS clients will continue to grow. 

What is your favorite part about volunteering with MVLS?
Direct interpersonal communication with clients, and a feeling of contributing something real to others whose legal needs might otherwise go unmet.

Why should other attorneys do pro bono?
Many of MVLS clients do not know where or how to solve legal challenges and problems. MVLS allows for attorneys to be paired with low-income clients who have legal or tax problems that match the professionals’ expertise. MVLS provides clinics and resources for attorneys and professionals who have not yet developed an expertise in a particular area of specialization, enabling them more easily to accept cases outside their current practice field(s). This not only broadens the professional’s experience, it seems to lessen, for the professional, what might otherwise be a disinclination to take on something new and unfamiliar.

Where do you see the Impact of civil legal services in the next ten years? 
The demand for pro bono services will grow as an increasing number of low-income persons come to understand the value and wide variety of needs that can be served by organizations such as MVLS, and become more educated as to what these services have done for them so that they can inform others with similar needs.

 

MVLS Continues Their Great Work in Tax Sale and Keeping Residents in Their Home

Did you know you can lose your home to tax sale if you owe Baltimore City $750 in property taxes? Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service was featured in The Chronicle of Philanthropy for our latest tax sale work that saved a Baltimore resident from losing their home. MVLS’ Consumer Staff Attorney, Aja’ Mallory worked directly with the client who did not have a job due to being disabled and having limited income. If it were not for MVLS the client may have lost their home that she has lived in since 1997. Elizabeth Vermillera is just one example of the efforts MVLS undertake every day to save homes from tax sale.  

TBaltimore rowhomehere is a troubling racial disparity in Baltimore in that residents who are disproportionally Black and low-income end up at risk of losing their homes to tax sale. These are not new homes that families recently purchased and realized that they cannot afford the mortgage, but homes that are multi-generational. Tax Sale compromises the financial stability of families. Elders in Baltimore are being disrupted from the ability to age in place and further adds to the barriers to transfer wealth in Black communities.  At tax sale clinics MVLS participates in, the average client has been in their homes for over 15 years, and 78% of clients are Black.

There are resources available if you worry about paying your property taxes or other utilities. If you owe Baltimore City more than $750 in delinquent property tax, act now so that your home doesn’t end up on the tax sale list for May. 

For Baltimore City residents, the Water4All Discount Program  aims to create more equitable access to financial assistance for eligible residents who need help paying their water bill. The W4A Program provides a monthly discount for water and sewage bills based on a percentage of a resident’s income. If a resident is receiving assistance under the BH20 program, they must apply to the new Water4All program as the city will not roll you over to the new program.  

The Maryland Homeowner Assistance Fund will help homeowners who need assistance with paying their mortgage, property taxes, and ground rent or those who need assistance with repairs or weatherization to remain in their homes. You can apply for the HAF grant for delinquent property taxes if you don’t have a mortgage.  

The Homeowner’s Property Tax Credit can help reduce the amount of property taxes you have to pay.  You have to apply every year.  You can apply now at Pages – Homeowners’ Property Tax Credit Program (maryland.gov)

Have You Heard of The Water4All Program?

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What is the Water4All Program?  

The Water4All (W4A) program has officially launched in Baltimore City and aims to create more equitable access to financial assistance for eligible residents who need help paying their water bill. The W4A Program provides a monthly discount for water and sewage bills based on a percentage of a resident’s income.  

Am I Eligible?  

The program is open to Baltimore City residents with an income less than 200% of the federal poverty level. The W4A program uses a formula to create the maximum amount a resident should pay for annual water and sewer services, based on a percentage of their annual household income.  

Why it Matters.  

Baltimore’s goal in the W4A program is providing more equitable access to financial assistance for those who need help with their water bills. It may also provide financial assistance for tenants who do not have their own account with the Department of Public Works, but instead pay their landlord for water directly.  

How do I Apply?  

The W4A program has an active online application, however if you need to apply with a paper application please call (410)-369-5555. If you are a Baltimore resident currently receiving BH2O Assist or BH2O Plus financial assistance, you must apply for the Water4all program. You must do so to continue receiving financial assistance prior to the end of your current annual coverage.  

For more information on the Water4All program please visit Water4All NOW Accepting Applications | Baltimore City Department of Public Works  

February 2022 Volunteer of the Month

Brad Haney

We’re proud to recognize Brad Haney as the February 2022 Volunteer of the Month. Read on to learn more about Brad and his experience as an MVLS volunteer. 

Why do you choose to volunteer with MVLS? 
My co-worker introduced me to MVLS. They said I would be able to help people that have issues with the IRS.

Do you have any stand out stories?
Mrs. Williams*, a disabled senior citizen, was a burdened with tax liens from federal and state in the amount around $17,000. She was on a payment plan that was unaffordable for her to maintain. We were able to settle the debt for $50. 

What is your favorite part about volunteering with MVLS?
Getting the results done to ease the worries of our taxpayers!

Why should other attorneys do pro bono?
I am not an attorney, but I am an EA. It’s not who you are, it’s more of what you can do to help someone less fortunate. There is so much benefit behind helping someone else. From improving your professional skills to developing relationships with different clients, and volunteers. 

Where do you see the Impact civil legal services in the next ten years? 
I never thought about, but I hope it’s still alive and running well. I believe it helps people who most need it. It would be a tragedy not to have it. 

 

*Names withheld to protect clients’ identity and privacy.

MVLS Succeeds In Getting Client’s $11K Refund Released

Janice Shih, Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC) Director at MVLS spoke with CNN correspondent Gabe Cohen on January 25th about problems with the IRS, most notably the delays in receiving refunds, and why it is happening. Many taxpayers have not yet received refunds from tax returns filed from last tax season. MVLS’ LITC has been helping ensure that Marylanders of limited means obtain critical funds during the pandemic including the stimulus payments and their long-overdue tax refunds. 

However, the story does not end there for client Jasmine Jones who came to MVLS for assistance with her missing refund in late November. The LITC accepted her case and reached out to the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) to learn why it was being held up. The TAS was able to determine what the issue was, saw that it had been resolved internally but that her refund had not been queued up for release. TAS put in a request for release of the refund, allowing Jasmine to receive it 3 weeks later. Had TAS and MVLS not intervened, Jasmine’s refund might still be sitting there.  

Learn how to get involved with MVLS and take a case. 

Questions? Please contact Janice Shih, LITC Director.