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Originally published June 17, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified June 17, 2009 at 12:46 PM

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Free legal aid available for low-, middle-income homeowners facing foreclosure

Many homeowners facing foreclosure can get free legal help from a program launched this week by the Washington State Bar Association.

Seattle Times business reporter

Facing foreclosure? Get free legal help

Toll-free number: 1-877-894-4663

The Washington State Bar Association has launched a program to provide free legal help to low- and middle-income people in danger of losing their homes to foreclosure.

Homeowners who call a toll-free number will be referred to volunteer attorneys in their communities who are trained to deal with foreclosure-related issues.

The bar association started recruiting and training lawyers for the program May 1, said Judy Berrett, director of member and community relations. So far, more than 270 have signed up.

The statewide program began accepting clients this week.

While the percentage of households facing foreclosure in Washington still falls below the national average, the number of filings is increasing. Last month, foreclosure filings nationally declined 6 percent from April, but filings in Washington jumped 14 percent, according to foreclosure-listing firm RealtyTrac.

The bar association modeled its one-year-long program on similar efforts in other states where the foreclosure crisis peaked earlier, Berrett said: "We've been gearing up for this for a couple months."

Free foreclosure legal aid already is available to homeowners whose annual incomes fall below 200 percent of the federal poverty level through the nonprofit, government-funded Northwest Justice Project, a partner in the bar association's initiative.

The new program will serve homeowners with incomes as high as 400 percent of the poverty level, or about $88,000 for a family of four.

But Lily Sotelo, of the Northwest Justice Project said the program will indirectly help homeowners of all income levels, by boosting the number of lawyers with expertise in such areas as predatory lending and foreclosure-rescue scams.

The bar association is providing a project manager to recruit and train volunteer lawyers, plus $150,000 to fund a lawyer and paralegal at the Northwest Justice Project who will oversee case intake, screening and referral.

The association also has allocated $10,000 to produce online training materials for lawyers.

Eric Pryne: 206-464-2231 or epryne@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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