In 2016, the Arkansas Access to Justice Foundation received $4,490,240 in funding in connection with the 2014 Bank of America Mortgage Settlement. The funds are to be used for foreclosure prevention and community redevelopment legal assistance. The designated recipients of the grant are Arkansas’ two civil legal services providers, Legal Aid of Arkansas and the Center for Arkansas Legal Services. The funds are dispersed based on percentage of poverty population, with the grant period beginning in December 2016 and being renewed annually for five years thereafter.
Foreclosure prevention for homeowners may include actions to negotiate mortgage modifications; bankruptcies to allow more time to pay a mortgage or discharge other debts in order to successfully maintain homeownership; challenges to foreclosure proceedings; defense of collection actions and other consumer protection cases; disputes with the Internal Revenue Services or Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration regarding income taxes; Medicaid, SSI, SSDI and Social Security appeals; beneficiary deeds for low-income homeowners to allow them to transfer their property to their intended beneficiaries upon their death; unemployment compensation actions; representation in divorces or child custody actions in which maintenance, child support, or possession of the family home are at issue; sealing criminal records so the homeowner may obtain employment or other economic benefit; and, support for any pro bono efforts in regard to any of the above activities.
Community redevelopment legal services may include, but are not limited to, evictions and disputes with landlords; utility cases; cases to assist individuals in acquiring or maintaining public benefits; representation of low-income small-business owners in transactional matters; representation of nonprofit organizations for the purpose of providing housing to low-income communities, abating blight, or otherwise improve the quality of life in low-income and rural communities; creating wills, clearing title, and other heir property issues; Chapter 7 & 13 bankruptcies; defense of debt collection actions; Medicaid, SSI, SSDI and Social Security appeals; unemployment compensation actions; sealing criminal records so that individuals may obtain employment or other economic benefit; representation in fair housing and disparate impact claims; assistance in maintaining eligibility and residence in low-income housing programs; partnering with community programs that provide job training and placement for low-income workers; workforce development including securing wages and employment benefits; access to municipal/rural services; and support for any pro bono efforts in regard to any of the above activities.
The Access to Justice Foundation has also made Special Project Funding available to the Legal Aid programs. In 2017, Legal Aid of Arkansas received just over $60,000 from this source to start a Fair Housing project. This was continued in 2018, and expanded to include a transitional attorney position. The transitional attorney works for Legal Aid in an underserved remote location for one year and thereafter agrees to serve as a pro bono volunteer for Legal Aid.