Harvard-based program takes on foreclosure prevention in Mattapan

The Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School launched its Mattapan campaign at the Mattapan branch library on Wednesday afternoon.

A new anti-foreclosure and eviction defense program is launching a new effort in Mattapan this week. The Mattapan Initiative is a program of the Legal Services Center (LSC) of Harvard Law School. On Wednesday, July 31, there was a meet & greet luncheon with community leaders, elected officials, clergy, housing organizers and housing counselors at the Mattapan Branch of the Boston Public Library.

The LSC is a community law office providing services to low-income residents. According to Brandon German, Community Outreach Coordinator for the LSC, these foreclosure counseling services are not new; however, the Mattapan Initiative represents the LSC’s first program concentrated in a single area, and the services provided by LSC through this program are entirely free of charge.

The new initiative was started in part to make homeowners aware of a new state foreclosure prevention law that gives them new legal protections when facing foreclosures. During a recent housing bubble, banks targeted certain neighborhoods - often those with minorities and low-income families - and offered resident “predatory” housing loans which often included pitfalls like balloon payments, adjustable rates, and high interest rates, said German. When homeowners found they couldn’t keep up with these payments, banks would unlawfully foreclose on the house and evict the homeowners.

Often, banks would do this without filing the proper paperwork needed for foreclosure, and they would use scare tactics to evict the homeowners. According to German, only a judge can legally mandate an eviction.

The new law requires that banks follow proper foreclosure protocol and mandates that banks work with homeowners before foreclosing. LSC aims to educate and inform homeowners about the protections they are given under the new law, as well as providing legal advice and representation free of charge.

The LSC decided to focus on Mattapan because of the high rate of homeownership in the area - German said it was one of the hardest hit neighborhoods in Boston.

As an outreach coordinator, German canvasses the neighborhood after searching public records to identify homes in danger of being foreclosed on.

“My job is to really connect with the homeowner and let them know about our services,” said German. “Initially, they’re often ashamed and angry, but I explain to them that they’re a victim in this situation.”

LSC is not the first group offering advice to Mattapan residents who face foreclosure. The Boston Home Center, as a part of Boston’s Foreclosure Prevention Initiative, offers resources and information to help homeowners analyze their financial situations, and hosts workshops to educate homeowners on foreclosure prevention. Additionally, the Boston Home Center has partnered with several local non-profit foreclosure counseling partners, including the Mattapan Family Service Center. The ABCD Mattapan Family Service Center has offered a Foreclosure Prevention Program for about four years, according to Mercedes Paulino, who runs the program. She said that they work with the homeowner to assess their unique situation and help the homeowner negotiate with the lender.

“We try to determine what’s best for the homeowner,” said Paulino. If further legal action is required, they refer the homeowner to Boston Legal Services.

Attorneys working at LSC provide legal representation to homeowners, in addition to legal knowledge.

“We’re giving homeowners a legitimate source of legal advice, so that they have a candid assessment of the situation moving forward,” said LSC attorney Charlie Carriere. He added that there are many scammer companies claiming to offer legal counseling to homeowners for a hefty fee. As an attorney, Carriere’s job is to determine if there are any legal options better than foreclosure.

Often, he negotiates with banks on behalf of the homeowner and will represent them in court, if it becomes necessary. Since starting work on the Mattapan Initiative about five months ago, Carriere has already made contact with approximately 35 homeowners in the area, and he hopes that the meet & greet will generate more awareness of the LSC’s services.

German said that he thinks the launcher will provide an important place for the community to mix with housing advocates, elected officials, and others involved in the community.

“Our goal is to prevent homelessness and displacement,” said German, who added that the foreclosure process can cause undue stress and health issues for worried homeowners. “We want to help stabilize the community.”