The Texas Title Project

The Texas Title Project was a two year program established by the University of Texas School of Law Justice Center, that began in 2013 after Hurricanes Dolly and Ike devastated Texas, and critically impacted lower-income communities. The purpose of the program was to help low-income families whose homes were destroyed during the hurricanes to acquire clear title to their property so that they could be eligible for government funding. In clearing any issues relating to these titles, homeowners then became eligible for federal government rebuilding assistance. The project's threefold mission was to: clear titles for those homeowners and families that participated in the program; develop a general model for providing these types of legal services that could be implemented in the future, when another disaster occurred; and to study the barriers that existed that prevented low-income homeowners from having a clear title, especially in areas that are disproportionately affected by disasters. In the two years it was operational, the Texas Title Project provided services for more than 350 families seeking disaster recovery assistance in East Texas and the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

After Hurricanes Ike and Dolly, governments – both local and federal – began to offer funding to help families rebuild homes that were destroyed, or relocate them to less flood-prone areas. To be eligible for these funds, however, homeowners were required to prove that they had "clear title," or that they actually owned their homes, and that no one else could claim ownership or interest in the property. Unfortunately, this has proven difficult for many families throughout low-income areas in Texas – especially the neighborhoods that had historically lacked access to probate or court systems.

Demonstrating a clear title can be difficult due to a variety of factors. For example, many families may be unaware that a title to a home must pass to another family member for them to retain ownership. Even when aware of this, very few families have access to the legal help that would be's needed to pass title or ownership. In some instances, wills are not written at all, or they are not probated. Or, multiple family members may be able to claim ownership or ownership interest in a property. Liens may also exist on the property, which can prevent a clear title. All of these problems can be solved with the assistance of an attorney, but when community members within the East Texas and Lower Rio Grande Valley communities were surveyed, most residents either did not know about clear title requirements, or could not afford an attorney at all.

The University of Texas Law School - William Wayne Justice Center created the Texas Title Project through a $500,000 grant from the Texas General Land Office. To support those who had lost their homes during the hurricanes, program attorneys and law fellows developed legal services that helped clients clear the title to their homes and property. Additionally, they also worked to educate lower-income communities about the importance of writing wills, filling out proper forms, and going to probate – all which help to eliminate barriers to clear title. Through their work, the Texas Title Project was able to help over 350 families clear title to their homes and receive disaster assistance that either allowed them to rebuild or relocate from their current home to somewhere less flood or disaster-prone.

For more information on this project, please visit the Project’s webpage, which has links to a report on the project as a whole, as well as an overall guide written to help Texas homeowners that are most affected by disaster events. 

 

Publication Date: 2013

Related Organizations:

  • University of Texas, Austin
  • Texas General Land Office

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