Statewide Effort Provides Legal Assistance for Homeowners Facing Foreclosure

Statewide Effort Provides Legal Assistance for Homeowners Facing Foreclosure

Expanded Save the Dream Program Consolidates State Resources

COLUMBUS – Wednesday, 02 April 2008 – In an extraordinary multi-agency effort, state leaders today announced the latest component of Ohio’s “Save the Dream” foreclosure assistance program: a new initiative that connects qualified homeowners with legal aid lawyers and nearly 1,100 attorneys statewide who have volunteered to provide legal services free of charge.

Gov. Ted Strickland, Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer, Attorney General Marc Dann, Ohio Treasurer Richard Cordray, Director of Commerce Kimberly Zurz, Ohio State Bar Association President Rob Ware and legal aid leaders kicked off the effort at a Statehouse news conference in Columbus, and other events were held later in the day in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Dayton, Toledo, Youngstown and Marietta.

“Ohio’s leaders are working together toward one common goal – keeping as many people as possible out of foreclosure,” Strickland said. “We will continue to use our collective resources to do everything within our power to reduce the number of foreclosures in our state. The State of Ohio’s Save the Dream program will provide another valuable resource to homeowners faced with losing their home.”

Statistics tracked by the Supreme Court of Ohio show that there were more than 83,000 new foreclosure court filings in Ohio in 2007, which is a record high.

Save the Dream is a unique effort that consolidates numerous state resources and programs related to foreclosure into one, unified program for citizens to access for assistance.

The Ohio Department of Commerce launched Save the Dream on March 13 as a public awareness campaign that includes radio and television advertisements, a user-friendly Web site at www.savethedream.ohio.gov, and a telephone hotline (888-404-4674) that provides callers with information and access to an approved housing counselor.

Under the new component announced today, homeowners facing foreclosure can call the hotline to see if they meet the income and other eligibility requirements to be connected with a pro bono or legal aid attorney. Qualified homeowners will be connected with a local legal aid program to be matched with an attorney. Basic income eligibility is 250 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, which is about $54,000 annual income for a family of four.

The public information campaign and the legal assistance initiative both fulfill specific recommendations of the Governor’s Foreclosure Prevention Task Force, which was chaired by Zurz.

Many homeowners threatened with foreclosure cannot afford an attorney, and the resources available in the legal services community alone are inadequate to address the current need. Consequently, Chief Justice Moyer, Attorney General Dann and OSBA President Ware in February sent a letter to more than 34,000 registered Ohio attorneys calling on them to offer free legal services to assist homeowners facing foreclosures. So far, nearly 1,100 attorneys have registered to help.

“We believe that pro bono work is an obligation attorneys have to facilitate public access to justice,” said Chief Justice Moyer. “I’m impressed, yet not surprised, by the outpouring of support from Ohio attorneys to help with foreclosure cases.”

“The message we delivered today is clear and simple,” said Cordray. “Help is available. There are options and there is hope. But, the key to success is early intervention. Consumers and leaders need to unite and act now, there is no time left to waste.”

“Today, we in state government, the Courts, and the legal profession are proud to announce that we have developed a way to help hardworking people who have been victimized by predatory lenders save their homes,” said Attorney General Dann. “It is our hope that the brokers, servicers, and bankers who hold the tens of thousands of mortgages now in jeopardy of foreclosure will work with us to avert this crisis.”

The Ohio State Bar Association conducted statewide foreclosure training for nearly 350 pro bono attorneys in March. Additional follow-up replays of the training are being coordinated through local bar associations and the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation.

“Nearly 1,100 Ohio lawyers have volunteered to assist Ohio homeowners facing the potential loss of their homes,” said OSBA President Ware. “These 1,100 lawyers – and more will join their ranks – are being assigned to local legal services providers to be matched with qualified clients and will work with lower income Ohioans who could not otherwise afford legal counsel. These pro bono attorneys will supplement the resources available in the legal services community which alone are inadequate to address the current need. We are committed to helping Ohioans stay in their homes – to save their dreams – wherever possible.”

“Ohio’s legal aid and partner volunteer lawyers have joined in an unprecedented effort to provide much needed legal assistance to homeowners,” said Robert M. Clyde, Executive Director of the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation, which provides funding for Ohio’s legal aid delivery system. “This collaboration, which we believe is the first of its kind focused on foreclosure, will address a critical need of Ohio’s low income citizens.”

Save the Dream includes the following services intended to assist Ohioans in danger of losing their homes:

Tips on how to contact and what to say to their mortgage loan servicer.
Information on how to contact a HUD-approved housing counselor.
Links to local foreclosure prevention resources, such as the grass-roots Save Our Homes task forces that have been established in about half of Ohio’s counties.
A model program for Ohio courts to use mediation in home foreclosure cases.

Besides the state offices already mentioned, Save the Dream includes the Department of Development, the Equal Justice Foundation, the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation, the Ohio State Legal Services Association, the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing for Ohio, the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, the Legal Aid Society of Southwest Ohio, the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, the Legal Aid Society of Columbus, Community Legal Aid Services, the Greater Dayton Volunteer Lawyers Project, Southeastern Ohio Legal Services, Legal Aid of Western Ohio, Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati, and Northeast Ohio Legal Services.

Lawyers interested in volunteering should visit the OSBA Web site at: http://www.ohiobar.org/.

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