Bar News - September 5, 2008
Bar Foundation News: Grants Support Legal Help for Many Facing Foreclosure
By: Susan Noon
Eleven non-profit organizations, with fewer than 46 attorneys on staff, managed 16,411 cases last year. These organizations received grants ranging from $5,000 to more than $1 million from the NH Bar Foundation.
In addition to legal staff at the funded organizations, reduced-fee and pro bono attorneys also provided legal services to thousands of New Hampshire’s elderly and impoverished residents. In nearly every case, basic survival issues involving food, shelter, health, and safety were at stake.
A quarter of the 16,411 cases involved housing matters, including mortgage foreclosure and threat of eviction. That’s not surprising, given that foreclosures increased by more than 300 percent in New Hampshire from July 2007 to July 2008; more than 4,000 NH homes are currently on the market as a result of foreclosure. RealtyTrak, a national real estate marketing firm, reported that one of every 653 homes in New Hampshire was in foreclosure in July 2008, placing New Hampshire 14th in the nation for number of foreclosures. Hillsborough, Merrimack, Strafford and Coos counties have been the hardest hit.
Housing advocacy is one of NH Legal Assistance’s core roles for the low-income community. As the largest legal aid organization, with six offices statewide (plus one satellite) and a staff of 24 attorneys, NHLA received more than $1.1 million in grant funding from the Bar Foundation for fiscal year 2008. In 2006, NHLA reported handling 132 foreclosure cases; in 2007 they handled 167 cases. Within the first 6 months of 2008 they’ve already reported 192 new foreclosure cases, heading quickly toward doubling the cases from last year.
To address the increase, NHLA acquired new software and trained more staff in how to handle Chapter 13 bankruptcies in an effort to help more people save their homes.
"These bankruptcy cases are complex and they can last for up to five years," according to John Tobin, NHLA executive director. "They are often difficult to complete successfully because of stringent new rules that Congress put into effect in 2006 and because of the tenuous financial situation of many of our clients, even when they are working full-time."
NH Bar Foundation grantees continue to work diligently to preserve housing, avert evictions, eliminate unfair practices, and defend those who had nowhere else to turn. Significant support for these organizations comes through attorney participation in the IOLTA Program and donations to the New Hampshire Bar Foundation’s endowment.