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Lawyers Scarce for Poor Facing Foreclosure
Legal offices providing help to the poor are turning away many who have been hit hard by the economy, according to lawyers in cities across the country who were interviewed by USA TODAY.
A study to be released today by the Brennan Center for Justice found that many people now face complicated foreclosure proceedings with "no opportunity to obtain help from a lawyer."
The deluge is hitting cities across the country: Cleveland, Las Vegas, Washington, Phoenix, and others, USA TODAY found. In Chicago, the number of people seeking help has more than doubled over the past two years, says Dan Lindsey, who supervises a foreclosure program there. In Miami, so many people started seeking help that the local legal aid office now turns away everyone but people over 60 and families with children, says senior attorney Carolina Lombardi.
"It's overwhelming how many people don't have representation," says Melanca Clark, a Brennan Center for Justice lawyer and the study's author. "People don't know what to do when they have to go through this alone."
The Brennan Center, part of the New York University law school, found that it's tough to get help in several states. In parts of New York, more than 80% of homeowners facing foreclosures on high-risk mortgages did not have a lawyer. In Connecticut, about 60% of property owners didn't have a lawyer.
Hiring a private lawyer can cost over $5,000, a price out of reach for most homeowners who can't pay their mortgages, says AnnaMarie Johnson, executive director of Nevada Legal Services.
Meanwhile, the tide of foreclosures shows little sign of ebbing. The number of foreclosure filings last month was nearly 18% higher than in August 2008, according to the tracking firm RealtyTrac.