Bar News - November 16, 2016
NH Bar Foundation: Foundation Gives $1M in Grants to Legal Aid Projects
By: Dan Wise
Removing environmental hazards to health, helping people improve their chances of obtaining employment, and assisting homeowners in preventing or delaying foreclosures are projects recently approved for $1 million in funding by the New Hampshire Bar Foundation.
The NH Bar Foundation Board of Directors last week approved grant proposals from three major civil legal aid providers to make use of New Hampshire’s share of a nationwide settlement with Bank of America in the wake of litigation regarding mortgage irregularities. Under the settlement, the funds were distributed to state IOLTA programs and were to be directed to organizations providing “legal assistance in foreclosure prevention and community redevelopment.”
A Foundation subcommittee solicited and reviewed applications and made recommendations on amounts and a period for disbursal. The subcommittee recommended a three-year timeline and accepted proposals from NH Legal Assistance (NHLA), the NHBA Pro Bono Referral Program, and the Legal Advice & Referral Center (LARC). The three organizations coordinated their efforts and presented a joint proposal to the foundation. The projects to be funded are:
Environmental Justice for New Hampshire’s Children - $450,000
NHLA intends to engage in a multi-faceted, collaborative approach to reduce the incidence of lead poisoning and other environmental threats to children’s health in communities and particularly in their homes. The funds will allow NHLA to target high-risk communities and dedicate specific resources to this issue of special significance in New Hampshire, which has the oldest housing stock in the nation (58 percent of homes built before 1978). Efforts will include individual representation, systemic work with community partners and legislative advocacy to reduce hazards from lead paint in rental housing.
“Lead poisoning has been identified as the most pressing and immediate threat to the health and safety of low-income children in New Hampshire. It hurts their health, and their chances for a brighter future,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of NHLA, referring to statistics that every year between 2008 and 2013, tests found more than 1,000 children under 6 in New Hampshire with elevated lead levels. “We are grateful for this support of our work to better equip all parents to provide a safe and healthy home for their children.”
Overcoming Barriers to Employment and Housing - $120,000
The NHBA Pro Bono Referral Program will use its share of these funds for an anti-poverty program that aims to remove barriers to employment. Volunteer attorneys will be recruited and outreach efforts conducted to assist individuals who are eligible to obtain annulments for non-violent criminal records and for those who need legal help to keep or restore drivers’ licenses. A criminal record can be a major issue for those accused of or convicted of crimes to obtain employment or housing, join the military, or enroll in higher education. Additionally, having a driver’s license in a largely rural state with limited public transportation like New Hampshire is essential to get to work.
“National statistics show more than 100 million Americans have a criminal history on file,” said Virginia Martin, Pro Bono director and associate executive director for legal services at the NHBA. “Having a record of even a single arrest without a conviction can dramatically reduce a person’s earning capacity, never mind the ability to secure housing, education and credit. By giving people a second chance through annulling their criminal records, we are helping these individuals to become contributing members of our society, strengthening families and our communities.”
Foreclosure Relief Legal Assistance - $470,000
LARC will use this grant to continue to provide support and legal advice for homeowners facing the loss of their homes due to foreclosure. LARC is usually the first point of contact for the Foreclosure Relief Project – a collaboration of NHLA, Pro Bono and LARC – which provides a variety of legal services to help low- and moderate-income homeowners keep their homes, renegotiate terms or avoid or delay foreclosure. This funding will allow LARC to extend these services through 2019. (The Foreclosure Relief Project initially received funding from another settlement, involving multiple banks, in 2012.)
The exact amount provided by this distribution from the Bank of America settlement is $1,039,372 and is New Hampshire’s share of a remaining $490 million from the multi-billion dollar settlement that has helped fund foreclosure prevention efforts for the past three years. The remainder resulted from an amount set aside to reimburse taxpayers who received mortgage assistance from Bank of America and would have incurred higher tax bills. However, the reserve funds weren’t needed because Congress exempted mortgage forgiveness amounts from income tax.