Passion for Justice

USF Law Clinic Provides Mortgage Counseling

by Edward Carpenter »

As many as two million households will be affected by the subprime mortgage debacle: their homes foreclosed on, their equity lost, and their credit histories tarnished, perhaps permanently. How much of that could have been averted if those mostly low-income mortgage applicants had received better counseling before signing on the dotted line?

House Counsel, a new undertaking of the USF School of Law's Predatory Lending Clinic, and alumni working pro bono is providing just that sort of preventive counseling.

"Intervention on behalf of the most vulnerable in our society -- low income people, people of color, limited English proficient households, and the elderly -- is necessary to prevent an unprecedented loss of homes and wealth in these communities," said Tim Iglesias, law professor and program director of House Counsel. "Students and alumni will assist people who are financially disenfranchised, who, by virtue of their limited financial resources, are effectively barred from legal counsel and access to justice."

House Counsel starts by training working attorneys in lending law, predatory practices, and reverse mortgages. Thirty-eight attorneys attended training sessions in September and October, including Marcia Perez of the Law Offices of Allen & Associates. "I came out of class with a whole lot of new knowledge," she said. "As an immigration lawyer, this is a whole new field to me, from the vocabulary to the litigation process. And I am more convinced than ever of the need to apply principles of fundamental fairness in this arena. The stakes are just too high for the people victimized by predatory lenders."

Following their training, attorneys, paired with USF law students, work pro bono meeting with prospective borrowers to review their loan paperwork and funding options.

In recent months, students Jessica Florey, Michelle Nunoz, and Jonathan Jaffe worked on several predatory lending cases with the law firm of Liuzzi Murphy and Solomon, made up entirely of USF alumni. In one case, the student-alumni team was able to secure a temporary restraining order to stop a foreclosure sale just 30 minutes before it was to take place.

House Counsel inserts USF students and alumni into one of the nation's most troubling financial issues of the day. In addition to the USF School of Law, it is sponsored by Fenwick and West, Howrey, LLC., Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto, Fair Lending Consortium, and the Jesuit Foundation at USF.

"The Predatory lending Clinic and House Counsel provide law students with a real life laboratory for legal practice," according to the program's coordinator, Shirley Hochhausen, adjunct professor, director of the Predatory Lending Clinic, and director of the Fair Lending Practice and Referral Service at Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto. "Students are exposed to firms and practitioners who are committed to excellence, and help to provide a measure of justice to poor and minority borrowers who are at risk of losing their homes because of illegal loans."

Editors note: For more information about Housing Counsel or to join the attorney referral pool, contact Shirley Hochhausen at (415) 982-1510 or