Alveana is a 56 year old mother of six children – and grandmother of 15 grandchildren. She grew up in a house on Jennings St. in the Bayview. Her mother’s family had emigrated to San Francisco from east Texas during the great migration and had been so proud to buy that house. For decades the entire extended family celebrated every Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years at this house. Her mother had always said that the house would belong to Alveana and her sister when she passed. To make this happen, her mother had created a trust and placed the house in the trust, naming Alveana and her sister as beneficiaries.

In her old age, mother’s health started to deteriorate significantly. She developed dementia. She wanted a loan to help her cover her living expenses, so she went to her local bank. The bank demanded that the house be used as collaterol for the loan, so her mother pulled the house out of the trust and subsequently failed to put it back in the trust. In 2014 Alveana’s mother died thinking that she had taken care of everything and that the house would pass to Alveana and her sister.

But everything was not alright. The house was no longer in the trust. Alveana’s sister went to a lawyer who told them that if they tried to probate the house they would lose it. Terrified, they just tried to keep paying the mortgage and hoped no one would that notice the titleholder was dead.

Alveana began receiving solicitation letters from companies that always began, “I heard you’re selling your house – we can help!” She started to get very worried and decided to seek out help. She went to the San Francisco Housing Development Corporation, who referred her to Open Door Legal. She engaged our services despite the opposition of her sister, who was still convinced that they would lose their home if they tried to change title. Alveana and her sister even got into several shouting matches in our reception area because things had gotten so tense and emotional.

It took us several months just to reconstruct what had happened and come up with a work plan that allowed Alveana and her sister to keep the house, that adequately treated the lien on the property, and that got both Alveana and her sister on the same page. Thanks in large part to the help of our volunteer attorneys, we filed a heggsted petition, which allows the court to look at the decedent’s intent and place property back into a trust. We also had an issue with the filing fee, which Alveana could not pay. After a hearing, the filing fee was deferred, and after a second hearing – the heggsted petition was granted. Now Alveana and her sister finally knew the house was theirs.

Alveana was so happy that she called her entire family and exclaimed “Yea, we got it!” Her family was shocked and astonished that it had been possible. Now Alveana knows that she has a place she can live in and retire to, and a place that she eventually can also leave to her children. To celebrate, her entire extended family is going to throw a barbecue in their new backyard; everyone is invited.

Skills

Posted on

September 25, 2015

Ever since childhood, our co-founder Adrian has been dedicated to reducing poverty.

He studied systemic poverty in college and went to work in the field for a few years. Eventually, he had a thesis that legal aid was the most cost-effective way to address poverty in America. He wrote up a business plan and used it to apply to law school. 

The idea was to create the country’s first system of universal access to civil legal representation that ensures everyone can obtain timely, competent legal help for any legal issue, regardless of ability to pay. That had never been done before in the history of the United States.

In law school, he met Virginia, our Programs Director. Together, they co-founded the organization, two weeks after Adrian passed the bar.

When we opened we put a sign in the window, and with just that marketing and almost no other outreach we were overwhelmed with requests for help from people with good cases who had been turned away everywhere else.

Our first year we had revenue of $35,000. We would hand shred documents because a shredder was too expensive. Despite the financial challenges, we were able to work on over 280 cases in everything from housing law to family law to consumer law in the first year alone.

The hours were extreme, the pay was low, and the learning curve was steep. Still, we persisted. We knew that almost everyone we helped was not able to receive services anywhere else. Eventually, we attracted the interest of funders. We tripled our revenue for several years in a row. In 2015, we won the Bay Area Google Impact Challenge, which enabled us to expand even more. In 2019, we secured additional funding from the city that allowed us to open two new centers in the Excelsior and Western Addition.

As of 2020, our staff has grown to 27 full-time employees. We’ve shown that universal access is possible. Now, we plan to scale city-wide, make San Francisco the first city in the country’s history to have universal access to legal help, and become a model for national replication.