Not alone: Legal support to stop foreclosures

by Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico
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Not alone: Legal support to stop foreclosures
Not alone: Legal support to stop foreclosures
Not alone: Legal support to stop foreclosures
Not alone: Legal support to stop foreclosures
Not alone: Legal support to stop foreclosures
Not alone: Legal support to stop foreclosures
Not alone: Legal support to stop foreclosures
Not alone: Legal support to stop foreclosures
Not alone: Legal support to stop foreclosures

As August starts, families in Puerto Rico try to prepare for the peak of the hurricane season. The continuous housing and economic insecurity are still considerable concerns for homeowners five years after Hurricane María. In case another disaster strikes the Island, Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico's Derecho a tu Casa program, committed to mitigating the risk of foreclosure, expects a surge of calls and requests for assistance. This time, we want to have a social protection floor in place, policies and procedures aware of the impact of catastrophes in households, to ensure housing at times of peril. 

 

During the last semester, we experienced varying urgency and attention. On the one hand, we are conscious of a rising number of court foreclosure complaints. Between January and June, 2,210 new complaints were presented, a very high number compared to the same period in 2021, when throughout the whole year, 2,439 families faced this threat. On the other hand, we have seen a pattern of less public attention to foreclosures and more public investment in the movement of for-sale properties. Although people are generally concerned about rising housing costs, little is being said about people who are already homeowners and face an increased risk of dispossession. Other topics that lack attention include protocols and policies to protect these homeowners in case of disasters and a rising inability to afford their mortgages. While some may consider this strategy pessimistic, we need to pivot the narrative and attention to minimize the threat of homelessness NOW. 

 

The next few months will be full of workshops, KYR brigades, media outreach regarding our helplines and free legal support. At the same time, we will be increasing advocacy efforts to ensure that families - particularly elders and domestic violence survivors- are at the center of official narratives and attention and to ensure no displacements after a disaster strikes. Your support will help us create materials and campaigns to educate homeowners and financial institutions on the need to act. Please continue supporting Ayuda Legal Pueto Rico. Your donations are crucial. 

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After five years of continuous disasters, we know that the only assistance that works is the one that gets to the people who need it. Nearly six months ago, the government of Puerto Rico was allocated 75 million dollars to assist homeowners. This program could help support due mortgage payments, utilities, and other charges. With the explicit goal to prevent homelessness, this assistance was supposed to be delivered to families economically impacted by COVID-19. On an island besieged by austerity and unemployment, you would think that the government launched a broad media campaign targeting historically vulnerable populations. After all, the crisis does not affect all people equally.  

 

Between 2017 and 2021, we know that 15,858 homes were foreclosed in Puerto Rico. The crisis that banks and the government have often denied is now being named and condemned. Yet, today, the data regarding this assistance program is a matter of concern. The program closed without warning on March 11. Considering that the translation to Spanish of the application was deficient, that the vast majority of people (more than 96%) applied via the internet, and that little to no applications belong to the areas most severely impacted by the mortgage crisis - which are disparately black- we are challenging equitable access to this aid. Less than 5% of the funds were disbursed until the end of February. This is unacceptable. 

 

While we continue accompanying families in courts and in the process of negotiating with financial institutions, Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico is addressing how these policies of inequity promote and nurture discrimination. We are using legal tools like complaints and litigation to continue expanding our possibility of transforming a system that risks people's chances of having dignified housing. Your support at this stage, which has become critical, is even more urgent today.

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As we wrap up 2022, we create spaces to update and gather much-needed data about the foreclosure crisis in Puerto Rico. We also count our wins and remind ourselves about the long road ahead. As per the last official numbers, between 2017 and October 2021, nearly 16,000 homes were foreclosed. This means that multiple disasters did not slow down the impact of housing insecurity on families on the Island. Our lawyers have identified at least 1000 new foreclosure cases presented throughout these past 12 months.

In this context, legal empowerment efforts continue to be central. During 2021 - and in part thanks to your support- more than 900 people participated in our legal empowerment against foreclosures program. We have been able to socialize legal knowledge around essential tools such as information request processes so that families learn about their mortgage loan status and legal defenses after moratoriums on payments expire. We have offered assistance and a safe space for people confused, ashamed, and afraid of foreclosure processes. To convey power, we complement these efforts with movie nights, workshops provided by mental health practitioners, and plenaries of families affected by disasters. We are gathering data to help us understand the impact of our strategies impact on elders and women. We will share some insight on wins and challenges with you soon.

We face 2022 with hope and intention. Your continued support will help us expand this program and add new people to our team, an action that will multiply the capacity of our organization to promote dignified housing. We will be working with people - families - and through them continue defending the right to a systemic change that prioritizes the possibility of life, dwelling, and growth in the Island we call home.

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Tu casa, tu derecho. This slogan will frame our efforts throughout the end of the year, as we encourage legal empowerment to fight foreclosures. As Puerto Rico - and the world- get impacted by a more lethal COVID-19 wave, families are facing the risk of losing their homes. Examining court records, we found out that more than 720 new foreclosure procedures have been presented between January and the end of July 2021. As we approach the peak of the hurricane season, housing insecurity threatens the possibility of dignified living on the Island. Derecho a tu casa has been working non-stop to promote narrative shifts, create innovative legal support/advocacy tools, and provide accompaniment to people at risk of foreclosures.

During this semester we

  • Promoted and nurtured our risk detector tool known as "Conoce tu riesgo" which permits people to self-assess their risk level regarding foreclosure and learn more about available resources and services.
  • Created media campaigns to promote the network of organizations that provide free legal support to people in need
  • We are creating a database of the people we accompany to integrate them in self-defense and advocacy efforts designed to help and support families at risk of foreclosures.
  • We are launching - SOON, see picture for a sneak peek- a media campaign that will help us shift the narrative and address how the impact of foreclosure disparately impacts the elderly and women in Puerto Rico.

Stay tuned. We need you on our side. Please continue supporting Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico. You can learn more about our efforts against foreclosures at derechoatucasa.org

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Organization Information

Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico

Location: San Juan - Puerto Rico
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @ayudalegalpr
Project Leader:
Ariadna Godreau
San Juan, PR Puerto Rico
$2,814 raised of $35,000 goal
 
102 donations
$32,186 to go
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