With the $1.285 million grant Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma was awarded from the Oklahoma Mortgage Settlement, the nonprofit has opened 294 cases in 47 counties across the state to help borrowers stay in their homes with modified or reduced payments or negotiate a short sale of an underwater property.
Legal Aid has closed 111 foreclosure cases and had 183 active cases receiving service as of April 9 with the assistance of mortgage settlement funds.
The money from the Oklahoma Mortgage Settlement has allowed Legal Aid to expand its services and hire five new attorneys, with plans to add additional staff. The agency has 20 offices across the state to help people with qualifying incomes gain legal representation in the foreclosure process.
Most of what Legal Aid attorneys do to represent borrowers in a foreclosure is to make sure lenders follow the proper procedures in the foreclosure process, said Michael Figgins, executive director of Legal Aid.
“The fact is that nobody cares. The bank does not care.” Figgins said. “People come in and they say they can't get a real person on the phone.”
Katy Jones, a recently hired staff attorney, has already taken on about 20 cases since joining the Legal Aid in March.
Most of the people Jones represents have been fired or laid off from a job, or experienced illness or the death of a family member, which caused them to fall behind on their housing payments.
With $50,000 the Oklahoma Bar Association received from the fund, the association is investigating people who are not licensed to practice law, but claim to help homeowners stop the foreclosure process in exchange for fees.
“A lot of people who are being foreclosed on are being preyed upon by others,” said John Williams, executive director of the Oklahoma Bar Association.
In 2010, the bar association obtained injunctions against two men in Tulsa County District Court who were not licensed to practice law, but who claimed they could help homeowners stop the foreclosure process. The Oklahoma Bar Association has used settlement funds to monitor those cases and also plans to file as many as four additional lawsuits in state courts in the coming months, said Gina Hendryx, association general counsel.
Another $15,000 has helped the Oklahoma Bar Association set up a fund to help veterans in the state obtain legal representation in foreclosures and other matters, and another $37,000 has gone to continuing education to help attorneys learn about foreclosures.