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Law School Marks Fair Housing Month

April 23, 2009

In conjunction with Fair Housing Month, the University of San Francisco School of Law and Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto (CLSEPA) published a 12-page guide to mortgage foreclosure prevention in April. The law school also hosted a presentation by leading fair housing attorney John Relman this month.

"Loan Default and Foreclosure: A Brief Guide for California Homeowners" is available in print through community newspaper EPA Today and online at the USF School of Law and CLSEPA websites. The guide will soon be available in Spanish and Vietnamese, and 5,000 copies of the English language version are being delivered to "at risk" households.

Nearly 500,000 people are expected to lose their homes through foreclosure in California in 2009, which represents approximately one-fifth of the number of foreclosures projected nationwide this year. The guide, written by Shirley Hochhausen, director of USF's Predatory Lending Clinic and a CLSEPA staff attorney, in conjunction with USF law students, aims to educate California homeowners about the options available to them in foreclosure.

The guide was developed as a tool to help homebuyers overcome some of the anxiety of default and foreclosure by being better able to understand what they should expect if they were unable to make their mortgage payment," Hochhausen said.

The guide describes the foreclosure process, the documents homeowners may expect to receive in foreclosure, and options homeowners must consider when their home is threatened by foreclosure.

The USF School of Law Predatory Lending Clinic provides free legal assistance to homeowners facing foreclosure. Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto is a nonprofit that assists approximately 1,500 low-income residents of East Palo Alto, Menlo Park, and surrounding communities each year in housing, predatory lending, consumer, and immigration matters.

The law school also hosted Relman, a leading national fair housing attorney, on April 2. Organized by Hocchausen and Professor Timothy Iglesias, Relman's talk focused on four of his cases involving segregation and the Fair Housing Act (FHA). One case, tried in Columbus, Ohio, involved the denial of water to an African American community called Coal Run in Zanesville, Ohio. Relman filed suit under the FHA and Coal Run residents were eventually awarded $10.2 million.

"(That case) tugged at my heart strings in a pretty basic way," he said. "These are families who have been living there for years and years and years and told stories of trying to haul water up on freezing days with the snow.... One of our plaintiffs talked on the stand, broke down in tears, talking about what it was like for him as an African American man to have to watch when his children responded to the water truck arriving—that would bring the water they paid to have put into the cistern—the children would react like...it was the ice cream truck coming."

This type of housing-based discrimination, Relman said, persisits in the United States.

"In all these cases, it's the segregation that enabled the discrimination to happen," he said. "Thank God that we have a system where we have the checks and balances that we do and we have a state and federal system. Folks who did this work...50 years ago could never have won the gains they had if they had to be in state court in the South.... Each (case) is an example that if we aren't able to...stop and remedy discriminatory actions...it's going to worsen the degree of segregation, it's going to make the barriers higher, it's going to deepen the isolation and the separateness."