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December 11, 2012

Allegany Law’s work praised by Gansler

Attorney general says $200K will help distressed homeowners

CUMBERLAND — A program to help those facing foreclosure and designed to help homeowners avoid foreclosure, received a $200,000 boost, courtesy of a court settlement coordinated by attorney generals nationwide.

“We are energized and ready to go,” said Marcia Conrad, the executive director of the Allegany Law Foundation Inc. “Outreach is important to us, we want to get people help before they are in foreclosure,” Conrad said.

Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler handed the large ceremonial check to Conrad on Tuesday morning. The presentation took place in the county commission meeting room at the county office building at 701 Kelly Road.

“This is too big to put into an ATM machine,” Gansler joked. “It’s one of these deals where the check is in the mail,” he said. Plans are already under way to use the money expand help for homeowners facing foreclosure, Conrad said.

At the height of the foreclosure crisis, 40,000 children were displaced in Maryland, Gansler said.

“The impact (of the settlement) has been great. ...  It has reduced the stock and inventory of empty houses,” Gansler said. “We’re keeping a lot of people in their homes.”

 The foundation will continue a series of workshops, and work with private attorneys to provide representation in bankruptcies and foreclosure mediation cases, Conrad said.

Conrad said the foundation works with Jennie Cross of the Allegany County Human Resources Development Commission to offer housing counseling.

“What you guys do every day is important ... it keeps people in their homes and in the county,” said Gansler. “Every time a home goes into foreclosure, it brings down the value of the other houses in the area.”

The check was the first delivered as part of the $6.2 million allocated by Gansler to strengthen legal help to Maryland families as part of the $26 billion national mortgage servicing settlement with five major banks.

Maryland received about $60 million in the settlement, more than New York did, Gansler said. The rest of the money is also being used for a wide variety of aid to homeowners.

In 1997, Allegany Law Foundation Inc. was organized by the Bar Association of Allegany County to provide civil legal services to senior and low-income residents of Allegany County. The purpose was to supplement the legal services provided by the Western Maryland Legal Aid Office through local private bar pro bono assistance and staff support, information provided by the foundation stated.

Last year, the program enlisted volunteer attorneys who served 22 homeowner families who attended three Foreclosure Solutions workshops.

Volunteer attorneys staffed the Debtors Assistance Desk the foundation co-sponsored with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court one day per month. The attorney volunteers have also represented 32 families in court cases including 11 bankruptcy cases, five foreclosure mediations and 16 negotiations including loan modifications and Independent Foreclosure Reviews.

Allegany Law staff has assisted 88 families with legal services including follow-up advice after workshop contact, coordination of services with housing counselors and negotiation with lenders, servicers and creditors.

Contact Matthew Bieniek at mbieniek@times-news.com.

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