LSC Releases Final Brief in Housing Insecurity Series

Carl Rauscher     
Director of Communications and Media Relations     

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WASHINGTON—The Legal Services Corporation’s (LSC) Housing Task Force released today the fourth and final installment in a series of issue briefs on legal problems related to housing insecurity for low-income Americans. This new brief presents research on risky housing arrangements known as “contracts for deed” and examines how legal aid can intervene.     

Through this series, the Housing Task Force has documented the challenges that low-income tenants and homeowners experience and shared its findings about the role of civil legal aid in helping low-income individuals and families achieve stability and security. LSC launched the Housing Task Force in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which significantly increased demand for civil legal assistance with housing issues. LSC grantees handled more housing cases than any other legal problem area for the first time in 2021—a trend that has continued since.   

“Though this is the culmination of the work of LSC’s Housing Task Force, it is also the beginning of a larger conversation,” said LSC President Ron Flagg. “These briefs demonstrate different ways that low-income Americans are propelled into housing insecurity by predatory practices that exploit gaps in policy and the lack of adequate resources for civil legal services.”   

“LSC will continue raising awareness of these topics, advocating for the solutions the Task Force has suggested, and supporting our grantees in providing legal aid to low-income Americans who face urgent housing issues.”  

The previous three issue briefs covered illegal evictions, manufactured housing and extended-stay motels. Together, the series paints a picture of how housing situations that are accessible to low-income individuals and families because of their relatively low costs often include legal pitfalls that can put people’s housing and finances in jeopardy.   

Research presented in the Task Force’s latest brief suggests that contract for deed arrangements have greatly increased in popularity since the Great Recession. These agreements attract people for whom traditional paths to home ownership feel out of reach.   

The brief highlights the considerable risks that homebuyers face with these precarious deals, where the buyer makes monthly payments to a seller toward eventually owning the home—no bank or mortgage involved. Contracts for deed are difficult to monitor or enforce, both because many people enter into the arrangement informally, and because the deals fall outside landlord-tenant law and mortgage and foreclosure law.   

As a result, when sellers renege on these agreements—whether because the buyer has fallen behind on payments or just because they no longer wish to sell—buyers have little recourse. The seller holds the title, and the buyer is evicted, losing any equity they thought they were building. The brief suggests several ways to address this problem, including legal aid representation and eviction defense, better policy protections for buyers and public education on the hazards of contracts for deed.   

In addition to this final Housing Task Force brief, LSC has also released a video to raise awareness of these often-overlooked issues contributing to housing insecurity.

Legal Services Corporation (LSC) is an independent nonprofit established by Congress in 1974. For 50 years, LSC has provided financial support for civil legal aid to low-income Americans. The Corporation currently provides funding to 131 independent nonprofit legal aid programs in every state, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories.