Group offers help to heirs

Published 6:50 am Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Project Save Bogalusa is offering a free informational meeting for anyone who would like to learn more about getting deeds from heir property.

Heir property is property left to heirs by an agreement but not through a transfer of deed. Wendy Williams, the founder of Project Save Bogalusa, said these properties can present challenges for the de facto home owners, because the lack of a deed means they may not qualify for repair aid, loans or other assistance. In addition, without a deed whoever is living at the house is at risk of legal challenges from anyone else who could try to claim ownership of the property.

The educational clinic will feature speakers from Louisiana Appleseed, a legal nonprofit that offers legal aid to communities and governments.

Williams said she first got interested in heir property after her group launched a campaign in 2013 to find a rundown home to makeover. Williams said she found a winner, an 82-year-old woman who was living in a home so run down the roof had collapsed in places and the floor was gone.

“I can’t believe the city hasn’t kicked her out for that,” Williams said. But, none of that mattered, Williams figured, because Project Save Bogalusa was going to raise funds to build the woman a new home.

Except, the octogenarian didn’t actually own her own home.

“She’d never been through the succession process. The property was still in her grandfather’s name,” Williams said.

The success process transfers ownership from a deceased owner to a living relative, and because the woman didn’t own the property, Project Save Bogalusa couldn’t build on it. Williams explained that if they raised money to build that particular woman a new home, if she couldn’t prove ownership with a deed, any of her relatives could have shown up and sued for ownership, potentially taking away the home.

So, the home makeover program was canceled.

More recently this year, Project Save Bogalusa has been in the news because of their efforts at flood relief in Bogalusa and in the Baton Rouge area, but Williams said the nonprofit’s mission is changing and she wants to return to home and property development.

“With the flood we kind of shifted,” Williams said. “That was kind of our motive was to get volunteers involved in helping out, but now we’re getting back to where we intended to be, which is neighborhood restoration.”

One easy step is to make sure residents can get home loans so they can repair their own homes — and that’s where the heir property educational clinic idea came from.

Besides home repair, Williams said she also hopes her group can help the city relieve itself of some of the roughly 104 condemned properties currently lining city streets. Williams said the handwritten list the city provided is 104 homes long, but the list hasn’t been updated in a while and some properties are actually vacant lots.

Williams is working to update that list and make notes about whether the homes can be rehabilitated, or whether they need to be torn down. Because Project Save Bogalusa is a nonprofit, Williams said the group could qualify for grants the city is not eligible for and the money could go toward that effort.

Once the homes are rehabilitated, Williams said they could be used for low-income housing through the federal government’s voucher program and, one day, they could be owned by a family again.

“We plan to target or develop programs that are targeted to the socially disadvantaged and, hopefully, give those people a sense of pride in their community,” she said.

However, the first goal is to get residents aware of how they could get legal possession of the property they already have. Williams said she has no idea how many people in Bogalusa may be living at properties they don’t actually own, but she hopes to help them all through the Louisiana Appleseed presentation.

That presentation will be at ESM United Methodist Church at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 22.

“I want to thank ESM United Methodist Church,” Williams said. “It’s not only our group but they’re always very generous in letting groups use their facility.”

Finally, in addition to the new direction, the nonprofit has new office space. Williams announced the new Project Save Bogalusa offices will be inside the post office at 305 Ave. B in room 1111.