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Free legal aid uplifts Detroit’s homeowner stability

Legal Aid Uplifts
Legal Aid Uplifts

A new initiative offering free estate planning and legal services has been launched to assist Detroit residents in preserving family homes for future generations. The partnership, which involves the city of Detroit, the Gilbert Family Foundation, and Detroit City Council Member Scott Benson, aims to help homeowners navigate legal processes like establishing property deeds and creating wills. The initiative is a major step towards combating the effects of gentrification and fortifying Detroit communities.

Research by Detroit Future City indicates that about 5,500 local properties, valued at over $268 million, are currently in ambiguous ownership due to unresolved generational ownership transfers. The initiative addresses these ‘heirs’ properties’ issues, which often result in houses being abandoned or neglected and inhibit residents’ access to home repair assistance programs or tax relief.

There are concerns that indeterminate property ownership could obstruct the socio-economic development of Detroit. Properly rehabilitated and legally owned properties could generate revenue for the city and offer quality housing options for local residents. Detroit Future City continues to advocate for policy changes that enhance home ownership clarity, emphasizing the significance of property rights in economic stability and urban development.

Detroit’s Mayor Mike Duggan pointed out the critical role of home ownership in a resident’s wealth and the need to ensure safe intergenerational property transfers, especially considering the rising home values in Detroit.

He advocated for sustainable and inclusive housing policies to prevent economic displacement of long-term residents. The city’s efforts to facilitate transparent and affordable means of property inheritance aim to sustain housing stability and empower homeowners.

Efforts are made to support Detroit residents in the form of free legal advice and estate planning aid, with $668,000 of the American Rescue Plan Act funds allocated for this purpose. Around 3,000 households are expected to receive this free advice, while nearly 720 households will receive estate planning aid. These measures are focused on providing critical legal assistance to families particularly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring that their hard-earned wealth benefits future generations.

The Gilbert Family Foundation has committed to a $1.5 million investment over two years to support Lakeshore Legal Aid and Michigan Legal Services. These organizations will provide free legal representation to around 500 Detroit families presently at risk of tax foreclosure due to their properties qualifying as ‘heirs’ properties’. The investment is lined up with the foundation’s commitment to promote stable homeownership and economic progress in Detroit.

Plans are in place to run workshops related to the program through the summer, with more sessions anticipated for later this year and in 2025. To qualify, applicants need to be Detroit residents with an income up to 300% of the federal poverty level.

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