Maureen Morrow, Managing Attorney for the Disaster Title Clearing Project at Southeast Louisiana Legal Services (SLLS), knows a thing or two about the damage hurricanes can do to homes and families.
When she was a little girl in 1965, Hurricane Betsy destroyed her family’s brand-new home. Then in 2005, Hurricane Katrina completely devastated her home, tore the roof off her niece’s house, and left her younger sister’s home submerged under nine feet of water. Maureen, a life-long Louisiana resident, has lost cars and countless possessions to other deadly storms.
“I know how people feel when a hurricane comes and affects everything,” she says. “It’s devastating.”
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That’s why, when an opening arose in the SLLS division that helps people clear their property’s title so they can receive government benefits and insurance funds following a natural disaster, she jumped at it.
Homeowners have to show clear title to receive Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) benefits or insurance funds that can help them rebuild their home — and their life. Maureen finds immense satisfaction in helping her clients prove ownership of their property as quickly as possible so they can secure the funds they need. It’s a service she and SLLS have been able to provide to even more clients thanks to an AARP Foundation grant of $470,000.
When Hurricane Ida struck Louisiana in August 2021, many people in the state — especially older adults living with low income — couldn’t obtain FEMA benefits or insurance funds because they discovered that, for one reason or another, they didn’t have clear title to their property. Most couldn’t afford the cost to settle the estate and clear their property title on their own.
According to Maureen, clearing title can be a very expensive legal process. She explains that hiring a lawyer to do it costs about $3,000, while the court filing fees alone run between $400 and $500. “If you don’t have $500, it might as well be a million dollars. Because if you don’t have the money, you don’t have the money.”
But the AARP Foundation grant enabled Maureen and SLLS to immediately begin settling estates and clearing property titles for clients whose homes had been damaged. The grant allows her to help clients who have an income of up to 250% of the federal poverty line.