ILHPR founder and director BC Law Drinan Professor Thomas W. Mitchell (Caitlin Cunningham)

Initiative on Land, Housing, and Property Rights receives $2 million JPMorgan Chase grant

BC Law's ILHPR works to address housing and property issues for disadvantaged communities

Boston College Law School’s Initiative on Land, Housing, & Property Rights has received a $2 million grant from JPMorgan Chase in support of its work to address housing and property issues for disadvantaged communities.

ILHPR, founded and led by Drinan Professor of  Law Thomas W. Mitchell, a national heirs' property expert and MacArthur Fellow, will produce research and policy recommendations to preserve and expand property rights for underserved areas, as well as engage in community outreach and train law students, which will enhance national awareness about heirs' property challenges and solutions.

“The substantial grant JPMorgan Chase has made to help dramatically increase the research and policy development capacity of our Initiative on Land, Housing, & Property Rights will significantly increase our ability to make a greater impact on addressing a range of the housing and property matters disadvantaged communities experience, including a number of vexing heirs’ property matters,” said Mitchell. “We truly appreciate JPMorgan Chase’s support and hope this grant represents the cornerstone of a lasting partnership."

The $2 million grant is part of more than $9.6 million in total funding from JP Morgan Chase to eight organizations that will support free legal assistance, appraisal reform, and estate planning services in underserved communities. The effort is part of the company’s expanding commitment to tackle heirs property challenges across the country through a combined expansion of philanthropic capital, business investments, and policy recommendations.

The grantees, a combination of community-based organizations, legal service providers and universities, as well as Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), will focus on tackling heirs’ property and appraisal bias issues. Both are major contributors to the loss of wealth in underserved communities and disproportionately impact Black, Latino, Hispanic, low-income, and low-wealth families in both rural and urban communities. 

The funding was announced at a convening in Atlanta in June with leading policy experts and community partners in the housing space, where Mitchell was a featured speaker.

“This event represented a seminal gathering as there were representatives from major corporations, local and federal government organizations, federal reserve and federal home loan banks, CDFIs, and nonprofit housing and community development organizations, all committed to addressing heirs’ property and appraisal bias issues in a real spirit of partnership and collaboration,” Mitchell said.

"Safe, affordable homeownership opportunities are foundational for creating thriving and healthy communities," said Heather Higginbottom, head of Research Policy & Insights for Corporate Responsibility, JPMorgan Chase. "We need to be intentional about scaling solutions that address heirs' property issues and empowering people to maintain homeownership from one generation to the next. Today’s commitments are part of the firm’s holistic approach to mobilizing resources and expertise to address this issue in communities across the country.”

Heirs’ property, also known as a “tangled title,” often comes into being when a homeowner dies without a will or some other type of estate plan and their property is informally inherited by multiple descendants, regardless of whether they live on the property or have paid taxes. It also can come into existence when a property owner dies with a simple will that replicates what would occur if they died without some type of estate plan in place.

According to national estimates, the total assessed value of properties with a single-family home or some other type of structure located on them that are impacted by heirs’ issues is conservatively estimated to be over $32 billion across 44 states and the District of Columbia. A different study of rural land holdings has estimated that there is $443 billion worth of such properties in the U.S. Whether a building is sited on them or not, heirs’ properties tend to be worth substantially less than they otherwise would if they didn’t possess many of the defects that heirs’ properties tend to have, including the fact that a large percentage of heirs’ property owners lack clear title to their properties.

Left unaddressed, heirs’ property creates unstable homeownership, making it difficult for residents to convey property to the next generation, access disaster assistance programs that help pay for home repairs, or access property tax relief programs, leaving people vulnerable to a range of potential repercussions, including foreclosure, tax sales, and being targeted by investors attempting to buy a home below market value. 

“We’re proud to see progress with our appraisal reform efforts, recognizing this is just the beginning of effecting change within the industry,” said Sean Grzebin, head of Consumer Originations and Transformation, Chase Home Lending. “We’re also committed to helping more homebuyers across the country to avoid the negative consequences of heirs’ property and preserve their generational wealth by identifying innovative business solutions.”

Other grantees include the Alcorn State University Foundation; the Federation of Southern Cooperatives Land Assistance Fund; the Brookings Institution and Economic Architecture; LISC Jacksonville; the Howard University School of Law’s Estate Planning and Heirs’ Property Clinic; the Center for NYC Neighborhoods; and Catapult Greater Pittsburgh.