BALTIMORE – December 8, 2022 – Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS), the state’s largest provider of pro bono legal services, announced that it has been awarded $150,000 over two years from the Wells Fargo Foundation to support outreach and free legal help to heirs’ property residents in Baltimore City to help them keep their homes. MVLS will partner with Fight Blight Bmore to research and proactively identify Heirs’ Properties and provide tailored legal services to residents in those homes.
Heirs’ property occurs when a homeowner dies without a will, and Maryland’s intestacy laws govern who inherits their property. The resulting tangled title, one in which multiple heirs have an equal interest in the property, can cause a family to lose the home altogether.
MVLS provides free and full legal representation in these matters to Marylanders whose income falls below 50% of the state median (full eligibility guidelines are available online at www.mvlslaw.org/free-legal-help/eligibility). Specifically, volunteer and staff attorneys will provide direct representation to heirs in the probate process, transferring the title from their relative’s estate into their names.
“This project will increase housing stability for folks in neighborhoods that have faced historical divestment,” explained Tim Chance, MVLS’ Tangled Title Attorney. “For MVLS clients, saving their family’s home can be the first step toward building generational wealth.”
The Wells Fargo Foundation learned about MVLS’ interest in helping Heir’s Property residents during a national forum about the topic in 2021. Chance and Nneka N’namdi, Founder of Fight Blight Bmore, joined the forum to pitch a plan to research and identify Baltimore heirs and deliver free legal help like tangled title resolution and estate planning that can help stabilize a home. The Wells Fargo Foundation, which has funded similar initiatives in North Carolina took notice, and later reached out to MVLS with an invitation to apply.
“Being able to afford the resources to have housing stability can sometimes be a challenge. Wells Fargo is proud to partner with MVLS to support the Heirs’ Property initiative in Baltimore City,” said Traci N. Horne, Senior Community Impact and Philanthropy Specialist at Wells Fargo. “Launching in 2022, Wells Fargo’s Heirs Property Initiative (HPI), will provide $3.6M in grant funding to 20 organizations to support work addressing issues of fractured or entangled titles. These housing and legal assistance nonprofits will be supported to help more people and communities keep generational land and property. This is an essential resource that will provide pro bono legal services, open doors of awareness, meet folks where they are, help families keep their homes and provide peace of mind in their circumstance. We strive to make a difference in the communities we serve.”
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.
About Fight Blight Bmore (FBB)
Fight Blight Bmore (FBB) is an economic, environmental, and social justice initiative led by the community and informed by data to address the issue of blight. Fight Blight Bmore has three main functions to inform individuals about blight and its impact, create a mobile application to identify, report, and analyze blight data and to support the development of real property that is visioned, led, implemented and owned by the community’s existing residents. FBB provides community-based research, policy advocacy and direct resident support through the Stop Oppressive Seizure’s Fund. For more information, please visit www.fightblightbmore.com or www.thesosfund.com.
Susan Francis, Executive Director