Oct 23

Legal Services of Eastern Missouri Receives $316,361 Grant for Neighborhood Vacancy Initiative

Partners for program include leading law firms and community organizations

October 22, 2019 (St. Louis) – Legal Services of Eastern Missouri announced at an October 21 press conference that it received a two-year, $316,361 Pro Bono Innovation Fund Grant from the Legal Services Corporation (LSC).

The grant gives Legal Services the opportunity to expand volunteer lawyer involvement in its Neighborhood Vacancy Initiative (NVI) to better serve four high-vacancy City neighborhoods – The West End, Academy/Sherman Park, Old North St. Louis, and Hyde Park.

This month, four of St. Louis’ largest law firms, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, Husch Blackwell, Stinson, and Thompson Coburn, began work with Legal Services and the four neighborhoods to provide direct assistance to resident-led community groups.

Building on the long history of Legal Services’ pro bono support, the press conference was announced during the American Bar Association (ABA) National Pro Bono week, Oct. 20-26, 2019.

Speaking at the press conference were City of St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson; Sundy Whiteside, St. Louis Association of Communication Organizations (SLACO) Board President; Dan Glazier, Legal Services’ Executive Director and General Counsel; and Peter Hoffman, Legal Services’ Managing Attorney of the Neighborhood Vacancy Initiative.

Also in attendance at the press conference were more than forty participating law firm representatives, neighborhood association partners, members of the St. Louis Vacancy Collaborative, and Otis Williams, St. Louis Development Corporation Executive Director. 

Services provided to neighborhoods through the grant include litigation support to hold absentee owners of vacant property accountable and assistance on matters relating to corporate governance and compliance. Legal Services plans to expand services to vulnerable residents to prevent displacement through estate planning and help resolve land title issues that prevent people from obtaining home repair services.

At the press conference, Hoffman, who previously directed a similar neighborhood vacancy effort in Kansas City, said, “It’s easy to see the physical blight: broken windows, illegal dumping, weeds. What is less obvious is the legal blight. Fractured land titles, unreleased mortgages, liens – all of these result in a blight that requires legal assistance before anyone can even think about getting a house fixed up.”

Legal Services of Eastern Missouri is one of 14 recipients of grants from LSC’s $4.5 million Pro Bono Innovation Fund, a competitive program that invests in projects intended to encourage and expand pro bono efforts and partnerships to serve more low-income clients.

“These grants stimulate more participation by pro bono volunteers. They enhance public-private partnerships, leverage the federal investment in civil legal aid, and allow our grantees to reach more people in need of civil legal assistance,” said LSC President, Jim Sandman.

“Thanks to this federal grant, we can expand legal services to economically challenged City neighborhoods to build upon the hope and promise of neighborhoods that have long been underserved, and provide resources for growth and opportunity to areas struggling with disinvestment,” stated Glazier. “We are excited for this opportunity to expand, and we are so grateful for our community partners, funders, volunteers, and the City of St. Louis, all of whom are committed with us to improve the quality of life in our communities.”

About Legal Services of Eastern Missouri: Legal Services of Eastern Missouri has provided free civil legal help for low-income families for 62 years. In 2018, 30,000 people in 21 counties of eastern Missouri received services from four regional offices. For more information, please visit www.lsem.org.