2010-04-02 / Community

Free Legal Aid To Homeowners In Foreclosure

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, New York City Chief Service Officer Diahann Billings-Burford, Corporation Counsel Michael A. Cardozo and Commissioner of Department of Consumer Affairs Jonathan Mintz have launched a new NYC Service initiative to provide free legal support for New Yorkers at risk of losing their homes to foreclosure.

The program will increase the availability and effectiveness of free legal representation for those facing foreclosure by training and dispatching 300 volunteer attorneys to expand legal services provided by non-profit organizations. The free legal services program is a component of Mayor Bloomberg’s 2010 State of the City pledge to launch the most ambitious home foreclosure prevention effort of any city in the nation. The program will be implemented by NYC Service, the City’s comprehensive initiative to promote a new era of service in New York City and direct volunteers toward the areas of greatest need.

The Mayor also was joined at the announcement at the Queens County Supreme Court by Justice Fern A. Fisher, Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for New York City Courts, who is responsible for access to justice issues; Michael Hickey, Executive Director for the Center for New York City Neighborhoods; and Hilary Gingold, an attorney who will be participating in the program and has extensive experience working on a pro bono basis on foreclosure proceedings.

“The City’s legal community has a long, proud history of pro bono work, and we are tapping into that tradition to bolster our comprehensive effort to prevent foreclosures,” said Bloomberg. “The City has not been hit as hard as some other areas by the foreclosure crisis, in part due to our efforts, but we are seeing a serious impact. No family facing the loss of their home should be without representation. With a small commitment from just some of the 90,000 attorneys in the City, we can make sure every family in need has a better chance of staying in their home.”

The new program, NYC Service Legal Outreach, focuses on providing homeowners legal assistance during the mandatory settlement conference stage. The settlement conference is a meeting between the homeowner and the bank where alternatives to foreclosure are negotiated. The Bloomberg Administration led efforts in Albany to help pass State legislation that requires settlement conferences be conducted before a foreclosure can proceed.

Settlement conferences represent a valuable opportunity to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. Homeowners who are supported in these proceedings with legal advice have a more informed understanding of their options and obligations, and are much more likely to avoid foreclosure.

NYC Service Legal Outreach aims to recruit 300 volunteer attorneys over the next three months. Volunteer attorneys do not need expertise in real estate law to be a part of the program. All volunteer attorneys will be supported by a comprehensive foreclosure and litigation skills training program, an up-to-date website that will include substantial resources on foreclosure work, and daily supervision by experienced legal services staff. The website will be supported by ProBono.Net, and the training program and supervision services will be provided by Empire Justice Center, Legal Services NYC, The Legal Aid Society and the City Bar Justice Center.

Volunteer attorneys can participate in the program in two ways: 100 volunteer attorneys will be stationed at appropriate courthouses to screen homeowners and provide them critical counsel about which legal process to engage in, based on their individual situations. In addition, these screeners will assist families in attaining appropriate free legal representation. The volunteers conducting screening may also provide limited advice and counsel to homeowners wishing to represent themselves. Attorneys will participate in one day of training and serve a minimum of two days volunteering at courthouses. 200 volunteer attorneys will be directly matched with individual homeowners and will advocate for individual homeowners throughout the foreclosure settlement process. Attorneys will participate in one day of training and several court appearances over the course of several months. The Center for NYC Neighborhoods, which has been providing access to free housing counseling and legal services to New Yorkers since 2008, will direct homeowners in need to the NYC Service Legal Outreach program and volunteer attorneys in the NYC Service Legal Outreach will bolster the efforts of Center for NYC Neighborhoods, allowing the Center to serve more clients in need.

Homeowners facing foreclosure proceedings who are interested in retaining free legal services should go to www.nyc.gov or call 311.

“The Legal Outreach initiative shows that New York City can rely on the power of its people to strategically address our most pressing challenges,” said Chief Service Officer Diahann Billings-Burford. “New York City has no shortage of lawyers who are ready and willing to support their neighbors in need – they just need to know how to do it. Through this partnership between NYC Service and the Center for New York City Neighborhoods, we will recruit and train volunteer attorneys to dramatically increase the capacity of New York City’s pro bono organizations and provide much-needed legal assistance to New Yorkers who are at risk of losing their homes.”

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