PR Legal Aid unveils tool for at-risk homeowners amid foreclosure crisis

By The Star Staff

Amid a housing foreclosure crisis plaguing the island, Puerto Rico Legal Aid (Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico, or ALPR by its Spanish initials) has revealed a technological tool that allows homeowners who are delinquent in their mortgage payments to identify the level of risk of a foreclosure, ALPR Director Ariadna Michelle Godreau Aubert announced Wednesday.

“Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico’s commitment is to put technology at the service of access to justice so that no person is left alone at risk of losing their home,” she said.

The organization noted that there is an inconsistency in the application of a moratorium on foreclosures, which expires on June 30. About 106,000 people, or 28% of the mortgage portfolio, has requested a moratorium. A majority of the homeowners at risk of losing their homes are women.

The tool’s creator, attorney David Rodríguez Andino, said it consists of a simple survey that allows the user to measure the risk of a foreclosure. The questions relate to the type of mortgage loan; status as a survivor of gender violence; whether the homeowners are 60 years old or older; whether they are going through a process of divorce, death of a spouse, loss of a job or catastrophic illness; whether the house has suffered damages from a disaster; and the time in arrears in the payment of the mortgage or the stage of the foreclosure process.

People interested in using the tool can easily and anonymously access it from a computer, cell phone or other device connected to the internet, Rodríguez Andino said. Homeowners will then be referred to entities that can provide help.

“Once the level of risk is identified, which ranges from mild to high, people will receive information on next steps and referral information to non-profit advisory entities, legal service providers or other comprehensive support,” he said.

Godreau Aubert said “The ‘At Risk of Losing Your Home?’ tool is part of the Right to Your House program, which promotes legal empowerment against foreclosures.”

She said Puerto Rico faces an unprecedented foreclosure crisis and, faced with that fact, “we must educate ourselves to know, exercise and defend the right to housing.”

Through the Right to Your House program, ALPR conducted a study of the mortgage foreclosure lawsuits filed between Dec. 28, 2019, the start date of the earthquakes that struck the southwest region of the island, until Dec. 31, 2020. The study confirmed that the threat to the right to decent housing does not stop during disasters, particularly when the defendant is a woman.

Case monitoring showed that 78.2% of identified foreclosures included a woman as a defendant. Even more shocking is that in 27.3% of those cases, the defendant consisted solely of women, Godreau Aubert said.

“In a country where the poverty level in households with female heads of families rises to 58.2%, it is an outrage that approximately one in four mortgage lawsuits is filed exclusively against women,” she pointed out.

ALPR initiatives to address the foreclosure crisis include the filing of a bill in the Puerto Rico Legislature which, if approved, would allow a moratorium on mortgage loan payments and rents for the benefit of those who have suffered losses.

The disclosure of the new technological tool is part of the prelude to the holding of the virtual meeting “A Roof Is a Right: Common Power Against Executions and Evictions,” organized by ALPR. Taking place from April 29 to April 30, the event will feature experts from Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, Spain, the United States and Puerto Rico.

The keynote speaker at the meeting will be Leilani Farha, global director of “The Shift” and former special rapporteur for the United Nations who has helped develop global human rights standards on the right to housing, Godreau Aubert said.

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