Underwater isn’t as refreshing of a term as it used to be for Arizona homeowners.
The term is now more commonly used to describe a house that is worth less than the mortgage taken out on it, but the Homeowner Advocacy Unit, a new arm of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, is providing legal advice for those facing mortgage fraud or wrongful foreclosure.
“The foreclosure crisis is still in full-swing in Arizona,” said Mary Ellen Natale, director of HAU.
The Unit, started with a grant from the Arizona Attorney General’s office, will help clients who have been making their mortgage payments but the bank still forecloses.
There are many players in a foreclosure process and even if the homeowner has applied for a modified loan, those pushing the sale forward might not have that information, Natale said.
“Its one hand doesn’t necessarily know what the other is doing,” she said.
Other times homeowners get caught in a scam where they are told they will receive help with their mortgage, Natale said.
“Unfortunately that help never comes through and then they’re faced with the loss of their home,” she said.
While the housing crisis affected the entire nation, Arizona was hit particularly hard.
“The housing prices went up so much that they had significant distance to fall,” Natale said. “The bubble was just bigger here than it was (in) other places.”
Community outreach is another aspect of the HAU.
The program is looking to help Latino, Native American, LGBTQ, and possibly senior communities.
“This will allow us to have a bigger impact on groups of people who do have serious questions on what they might be facing,” said Andrea Esquer, assistant director for the HAU.
Third-year law student April Sanchez is a student in the HAU. She is currently working with a client whose home was wrongfully foreclosed.
“The homeowner did everything right,” Sanchez said. “Sometimes the banks and the lenders don’t follow the rules and still sell the home.”
The statutes that apply to these mortgage cases can be hard to find because the situation is new and changing, third-year law student Sally Colton said.
“Because the market was up so high and crashed so quickly, it’s hard to find the statutes that really address the issue,” she said.
Colton enjoys the work she is doing in the Unit but is unsure if she wants to practice this specific type of law.
“The thing I really like about the clinic is that no matter what topic you’re working on it’s going to help you in your field as an attorney,” she said.
The HAU prepares students to become effective advocates, Natale said.
“The students get hands-on experience working with clients, doing the actual representation,” she said.
The students write the correspondence and prepare the necessary documents and faculty attorneys review their work.
“Basically, what we’re doing is we’re doing the work of attorneys but we’re being supervised,” Colton said.
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