Pro Bono News

In Puerto Rico and Louisiana, Storm Victims Struggle to Prove They Own Their Homes (Op-ed)

Friday, March 30, 2018

In Puerto Rico and Louisiana, Storm Victims Struggle to Prove They Own Their Homes

"According to a recent report from NPR, some Puerto Ricans who've gone to FEMA for help rebuilding their homes after Hurricane Maria are being denied funds because they can't prove that they own the damaged property.  Their experiences are similar to those of Louisianians who were living in homes that their parents or grandparents had bought when the hurricanes of 2005 damaged or destroyed them.  Not having papers to prove ownership hadn't been much of a problem for them until the Road Home program demanded documentation.

In Louisiana, a group of attorneys, many of them working pro bono, mobilized to help Louisianians establish clear title to their storm-damaged property. Louisiana Appleseed, part of a larger legal advocacy network throughout the United States, has been encouraging the Louisiana Legislature to make it easier for residents to get the documents they need to show ownership and encouraging residents to get their papers in order.

Even if no storms come, and even if nobody else is challenging the de facto owner's ownership, Louisiana Appleseed's executive director Christy Kane said March 22 that it's still a good idea to have documentation. "We need to move from an informal system to legal system to build wealth," she said.  For all intents and purposes, a person might own a house. They might be paying the taxes and the insurance premiums.  But for that person to use the house as an asset, she said, "it still has to be in their name."..."

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