A variety of factors are responsible for housing instability in low-income communities. In the Tar Heel state, the two most common causes are heir property and eviction, according to Legal Aid North Carolina, a nonprofit that provides legal advice to North Carolina residents to help them avoid displacement and homelessness.

Predominantly seen in Black and rural communities in the state, heir property refers to arrangements whereby homes and land are passed down outside of the courts, often through families and over several generations. Issues arise when family members die without leaving a will. 

Then there’s eviction, which affects low-income communities everywhere. 

But with a $450,000 grant from the Wells Fargo Foundation, Legal Aid NC plans to target both of these causes—and expand housing justice services for homeowners and renters in this region.

The statewide law firm provides free legal help in civil matters to low-income people who are often battling legal problems that affect basic human needs, including caring for family, finding housing, continuing education, finding employment, and receiving income.

The two-year grant will be divided into two segments: $300,000 of the funds will go toward launching Legal Aid’s Heir Property Pro Bono Project, an effort to involve the law firm in heir property work within the region.

The Heir Property Pro Bono Project will partner with the North Carolina Bar Association’s Real Property Section to recruit North Carolina real estate lawyers and paralegals that can help heir property owners formalize their homeownership and resolve complex issues that arise from not having clear titles to their home and land. Lawyers will help property owners establish clear title to their home and land in order to preserve generational wealth in families and affordable housing in low-income communities. 

Overall, the grant is aimed to provide opportunities for more people to create generational wealth through homeownership, said Suzie Koonce, a philanthropy and community impact specialist at Wells Fargo.  

“We are proud to provide this important grant to Legal Aid NC to help more families in Raleigh and across Eastern North Carolina access the legal services they need to stay in their homes and address systems that often lead to loss of property, land, and wealth for families of color,” Koonce said.

The remaining $150,000 will go towards work to expand eviction defense in Raleigh as well as Edgecombe and Nash counties. 

“Keeping families in their homes by preventing eviction has always been one of our top priorities at Legal Aid NC,” said Pamela Thombs, managing attorney of the nonprofit’s Raleigh office. 

“But there are never enough resources to help everyone who needs us. This funding will allow us to provide life-changing legal help to families who would otherwise have nowhere to turn.”

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