When I read the stories in our 2020 Annual Report, what I see is MVLS helping stabilize communities. For nearly 40 years, that’s been the thrust of what MVLS is all about. Most of the time, that stabilization comes through one family or individual at a time when they obtain an attorney who can help them advocate for the things that they hold most dear in their life – their children, their home, and their livelihood. It is only with the continuous commitment of thousands of volunteer attorneys that MVLS has been able to help nearly 100,000 Marylanders facing financial hardship in our four decades of providing free essential legal services. Having an attorney helps someone navigate complex court proceedings which can have the utmost important impact – like obtaining custody of their own child or maintaining the family home.
In 2007, MVLS began working with clients during the mortgage foreclosure crisis who were desperate to save their homes, while their neighborhoods were being decimated by vacant properties and falling property values. This solidified MVLS’ commitment to housing stabilization. Since then, MVLS has had a significant role in identifying and addressing barriers to homeownership which often include tax sale, deed and estate matters. The goal has been to ensure clients can sustain their homes and remove barriers to generational wealth transfer. Much of our work seeks to tackle the long-term disparate impacts of structural racism that all too often leave Black homeowners and communities with far fewer assets and under-valued properties. This results in greater wealth extraction instead of enabling wealth transfer in communities. Keeping families in their homes is one of the most important stabilizing factors for neighborhoods.
Every time a MVLS volunteer helps a client avoid an unfair garnishment, improves a client’s employability by removing items on their criminal record through expungement, or unravels a tax issue with the IRS, they are impacting the communities where our clients live – resulting in greater community stabilization. Every time MVLS staff connect with a new community partner and builds confidence that our agency will remain invested in their community, we create steps towards stabilization. Our community-focused work over the past several years has been essential to getting legal services to those that most need it. And it is during this incredibly challenging time when isolation and distancing has become a survival technique, these community relationships which have been built on commitment and trust, have afforded us the ability to stay invested in our communities, even when we can’t be there in person.
There is no doubt that MVLS staff and volunteers are impacting the lives of thousands of Marylanders every single year. Our work matters in dramatic ways, and can be part of the catalyst to bring stability and hope into the lives of our clients and the communities we serve. MVLS does not do this work alone, and heavily relies on our community partners, clients, volunteers, funders, and other supporters who care as much about stemming the denial of access to justice as much as we do. Thank you for being a part of stabilizing our communities.
Susan Francis, Esq.