Although Habitat for Humanity is probably best known for our homebuilding and homeownership programs and services, we also offer Mortgage Foreclosure Prevention support for residents of Minneapolis, and health and safety repair services for existing low-income homeowners in the Twin Cities metro area through our A Brush with Kindness (ABWK) program.
Through all our programs and services, our staff works with families in various stages of homebuying/ownership and maintenance and repair work. These partnerships with local families enable us to learn more about the challenges that home buyers and owners face, and oftentimes we see prevailing trends with issues affecting a broader number of families.
It is through this constant phase of learning that Twin Cities Habitat identified a growing need within the community around legal counsel and expertise in real estate law. This need drove Habitat to partner with the Volunteer Lawyers Network (VLN), to begin co-hosting monthly clinics to help address challenges that Habitat clients are facing in relation to real estate law.
"A home is a family’s biggest financial asset, and protecting that asset entails more than home repair assistance. Many life matters and real estate transactions can complicate homeownership and create instability. These legal clinics are an intentional extension of what Habitat is already doing to support individuals and families with housing stability," said Allie, ABWK Family & Partnership Manager at Twin Cities Habitat.
VLN uses the power of volunteers to protect and enforce the legal rights of low-income Minnesotans. Through the monthly clinic, income-qualified homeowners in the metro area are given the opportunity to schedule 45 minute appointments with volunteer attorneys, to discuss their legal matter and get legal advice. Priority scheduling opportunities are given to existing Habitat homeowners and A Brush with Kindness homeowner families.
"When clients are scheduled for Habitat for Humanity clinics, they are guaranteed a time slot with the attorney to get advice and can even work on completing forms or drafting documents," said Maren, Case Coordinator for VLN's Housing Program. "This is a huge benefit of these clinics, as many other free clinics have lines and operate on first-come, first-served basis."
VLN's Housing Program offers advice on a range of issues, from eviction and security deposits for landlords and tenants, to topics such as titles and homeownership associations through the real estate program.
"In addition to legal advice, our volunteer attorneys may provide limited services, such as assistance in completing form court pleadings, to individuals in the clinic setting," said Laura, Housing Resource Attorney and Program Manager with Volunteer Lawyers Network.
Maren and Laura recommend that families gather any documents related to their legal issue and bring it with them to their appointment. They also encourage families to write down specific questions they have for the attorney, and to arrange to be accompanied by a case worker, interpreter or other supportive friend/family member, if they feel it would be beneficial.
"I enjoy talking with clients and hearing their stories," said Maren. "That is what motivates me to be a part of VLN. I love being able to serve my community and promote access to justice."
Laura echoed Maren's sentiment:
"I believe working for VLN in the housing and real estate practice is a good fit (for me). I believe adequate and affordable housing is essential to physical, emotional, social, and economic wellbeing, and this position presents the opportunity to engage in meaningful work that will improve the wellbeing of Minnesota residents. In addition, VLN's commitment to mobilizing attorneys to provide pro bono legal services to people living in poverty is a worthy investment and something I want to be part of."
Habitat for Humanity/VLN clinics will be offered at Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity on select dates at 1954 University Ave. W., St. Paul 55104. Appointments are available at 2:00pm, 2:45pm, 3:30pm, and 4:15pm on those select dates. For more information and/or to schedule an appointment, please call the Housing Case Coordinator at Volunteer Lawyers Network at (612) 752-6635.