Testimony Confirms Committee’s Decision to Set Aside $500,000 for Texas Pro Bono Groups to Cure Heir Title Problems
Last year, Adams and Reese and pro bono nonprofit Louisiana Appleseed teamed up to help pass a crucial state bill that would provide relief to many of the thousands of Louisiana residents living in homes without clear title. Nine months later, Adams and Reese Partner Malcolm A. Meyer and Louisiana Appleseed Executive Director Christy Kane have teamed up again by testifying in front of the Texas Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations to try to help the state of Texas solve similar property heirship issues.
Meyer and Kane were invited by the Committee’s Chairman Senator Royce West, the former president pro tem of the Texas State Senate, to appear before the committee on April 6th.
“We explained our Louisiana heirship initiative and the passage of Act 81 in the 2009 Louisiana Legislature, and our testimony was very well received,” said Meyer.
After the testimony, Meyer said the committee confirmed the state’s decision to set aside $500,000 to help pro bono organizations cure heir titles, so that the balance of Texas’ hurricane funds could be distributed. The Committee then said it would consider making transfers of family homes to surviving spouses be automatic by allowing the insertion of such a provision into a deed at the time of purchase, and the Committee would consider recommendations that the titles be cured not just for hurricane reimbursement, but to restore these properties to commerce and to allow their owners access to mainstream lenders.
“Our heirship efforts have great traction in Texas, and a lot of people will be helped,” Meyer said. “It is very clear to both Christy and myself that this is a major problem, which spans at least the entire South.” Kane added: “That is why there are efforts within the Appleseed network, including at Texas and Louisiana Appleseed, to address this problem at its root cause.”
On June 18, 2009, Act No. 81 (formerly Senate Bill 184) was signed into law by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, lowering the costs of title-clearing for many low-income homeowners and protecting heir property owners from land loss, affording them better disaster recovery options, and increasing access to the wealth generating tools commonly associated with home ownership.
In 2005, hurricanes Katrina and Rita revealed many low-income people throughout Louisiana had trouble qualifying for federal disaster relief funds because they lived in homes for which they did not have clear title. This type of ownership is often referred to as heir property.
“Thousands of people throughout Louisiana live in homes that have been passed down through several generations, outside of the legal system” said Kane. “This results in unclear title, which can cost thousands of dollars to resolve. Many Louisiana residents just don’t have that kind of money.”
In addition to problems associated with obtaining federal disaster recovery funds, families who lack clear title face a heightened risk of losing their property and often have trouble accessing low-interest loans.
Adams and Reese and Louisiana Appleseed’s efforts have garnered national and local attention – featured on National Public Radio and in the local news. Louisiana Appleseed hopes that these changes will serve as a model for other states with a need for reform in this area.
Adams and Reese is a multidisciplinary law firm with offices strategically located throughout the southern United States and Washington, D.C. American Lawyer includes Adams and Reese on its distinguished list of the nation’s top law firms – “The Am Law 200”. The National Law Journal also includes the firm on the “NLJ 250” list of the nation’s largest law firms.
Louisiana Appleseed is part of a network of 16 public interest justice centers in the U.S. and Mexico. Louisiana Appleseed is dedicated to building a society in which opportunities are genuine, access to the law is universal and equal, and government advances the public interest. Louisiana Appleseed’s program areas are designed to ensure that all residents of Louisiana have equal access to justice, education and opportunity.