Legal Services’ Disaster Relief Program Helps Hurricane Irma Survivor Fight for a New Home
Legal Services has a proud history dating back to Hurricane Andrew in 1992 of providing legal responder services to disaster survivors. We partner with the private bar and social service agencies to deliver advice and assist disaster survivors with their legal problems immediately following a disaster. Some of the most common legal related issues that concern disaster victims include:
· Landlord/Tenant matters · Property Insurance · Access to Government Assistance · Contractor/Consumer Disputes · Document Replacement
Legal Services has contributed to Florida’s legal services disaster manual, has made presentations at national and statewide disaster conferences, and attorneys serve on the Monroe County Long Term Recovery Group by providing counsel to case managers and committees. Additionally, Legal Services attorneys provide disaster survivors with direct assistance including advice and representation in claims for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) benefits. The attorneys have been overwhelmingly successful in tackling the causes of claim denials and have recently won several appeals that have reversed the denial of benefits and have granted awards for disaster survivors to make repairs to a storm-damaged roof, cover the costs of replacing work uniforms damaged by mold, or place a deposit on construction to rebuild a home.
As part of our disaster response, Legal Services has also recruited pro bono attorneys to represent disaster survivors and has provided substantive training, as well as conducted legal clinics.
An excellent example of pro bono collaboration in the area of disaster comes from just this year. Although Hurricane Irma struck South Florida in September 2017, it was in early 2021 that Ms. Wilson* sought our assistance. Ms. Wilson is an 82 year-old long-time Upper Keys resident who suffered significant damage to her home but was fortunate to qualify for the Florida Rebuild Program. Through this Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), Ms. Wilson would be provided a new manufactured home. However, when the paperwork finally arrived sometime in January 2021, Ms. Wilson became stressed over the legalese in the documents and the neighborhood rumors about others who accepted assistance only to lose their property. She needed a lawyer to protect her rights and explain the contracts. Legal Services assisted Ms. Wilson with the filing of an appeal and sought pro bono assistance to handle the transactional legal services.
Through Florida’s Pro Bono Law School Challenge launched by the The Florida Bar Foundation to connect students with lawyers to partner on pro bono cases from legal aid organizations, attorney Federico Dumenigo and University of Miami law school student Kenya Rothstein signed up to help Ms. Wilson resolve these matters. They navigated the bureaucracy, sorted the documents, and counselled her, ultimately concluding with the successful and well-informed execution of the contract. Ms. Wilson has since met with the contractor and is looking forward to her new home.
*Client’s name changed to protect her confidentiality.
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