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Initiative on Land, Housing and Property Rights Awarded $2 Million from JPMorgan Chase

The grant will fund ILHPR’s work to address housing and property issues for disadvantaged communities.

Thomas W. Mitchell, Professor of Law and Robert F. Drinan Chair 

Boston College Law School’s Initiative on Land, Housing and Property Rights (ILHPR) is one of eight organizations awarded a major grant from JPMorgan Chase. ILHPR, founded and led by national heirs property expert Professor Thomas W. Mitchell, will produce research and policy recommendations to preserve and expand property rights for underserved communities. The Initiative will also 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 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 $9.6M in total funding from the company 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 funding was announced at a convening in Atlanta this week 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.

In addition to philanthropic capital, Chase Home Lending continues to deliver progress on bringing more diversity to the field of residential property appraisers, according to a JPMorgan Chase press release. The firm committed $3M to the Appraisal Diversity Initiative, a nationwide effort to attract diverse new entrants into the residential appraisal field through education, training and resource support. Since the program’s inception, Chase has supported more than 700 scholarships with 66 scholars now working as appraisers across the country. In Atlanta, 18 scholars are in the program and six graduates are currently working as appraisers. 

JPMorgan Chase is also advancing homeownership and wealth preservation through data-driven policy solutions and research. Last year, the JPMorgan Chase PolicyCenter released two briefs outlining recommendations to prevent and resolve heirs property cases and solutions to advance affordable, sustainable homeownership. To build on these initial recommendations, the PolicyCenter released two new briefs spotlighting best practices and policy reform opportunities that reduce barriers to generational wealth building:

The Supporting Heirs Property Owners Through Natural Disaster and Resiliency Programs brief explores policy interventions to protect heirs property owners before and after natural disasters. Many heirs property owners have been unable to access disaster assistance due to ownership requirements. As natural disasters increase in frequency and intensity – creating challenges for homeowners and communities nationwide – JPMorgan Chase supports federal, state and local policy interventions to help homeowners repair their homes, stabilize neighborhoods, and build community resilience. 

The Solutions to Build Household Wealth by Addressing the Undervaluation of Property brief features JPMorgan Chase’s leading role to reduce bias in home valuations. This includes business practices, philanthropic partnerships, and policy recommendations that focus on: modernizing appraisal processes, enhancing valuation methods, increasing training and diversity, addressing industry standards, and building consumer awareness.

Heirs property, also known as a “tangled title,” occurs when a homeowner dies without a will and their property is informally inherited by multiple descendants, regardless of whether they live on the property or have paid taxes. According to national estimates, the total assessed value of properties impacted by heirs issues is estimated to be over $32 billion across 44 states and Washington, D.C. In Georgia, over $400 million in assessed property values are impacted due to heirs issues. 

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

“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 Atlanta and communities across the country.” 

“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, in Atlanta and across the country, to avoid the negative consequences of heirs property and preserve their generational wealth by identifying innovative business solutions.” 

Founded at BC Law in 2022, ILHPR seeks to preserve and expand property rights for disadvantaged communities by producing research, devising legal reform and policy solutions, engaging in community outreach, training law students, and drawing on other complementary strategies. In addition to the JPMorgan Chase grant, the Initiative recently landed $350,000 from Harvard and its Legacy of Slavery Initiative’s Reparative Partnership Grant Program.

The initiative encompasses a wide range of matters, including rural land loss among socially and economically disadvantaged families; the past and present of the destabilization of urban neighborhoods due to redlining, urban renewal, and rising markets; the role of law and policy in ameliorating housing inequality and housing insecurity; and the issues rural and urban so-called heirs’ property owners face in retaining their properties and realizing the potential of their ownership. By helping communities of color preserve and expand their property rights, the initiative seeks to help narrow the racial wealth gap. It also strives to reform or create laws and policies to increase property and housing access, efficiency, and equity.

Mitchell holds the Robert F. Drinan, SJ, Endowed Chair at BC Law. He is a national expert on property issues facing disadvantaged families and communities, and has published leading scholarly works addressing these matters in academic journals, government publications, and publications for trade associations such as the American Bar Association.

A MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipient, Mitchell has engaged in extensive law reform and policy work, most prominently serving as the principal drafter of a widely adopted uniform real property act named the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act (UPHPA), which is designed to substantially enhance the ability of disadvantaged families to maintain ownership of their property and their property-related generational wealth. The act has been adopted by twenty-four states and other jurisdictions at this time, with several other states considering it, making it one of the two or three most successful uniform real property acts the Uniform Law Commission (ULC) has promulgated in the past thirty years. Mitchell also has helped draft some congressional farm and housing bills, including one that Congress is considering at this time.

In addition to ILHPR, JPMorgan Chase grantees include Alcorn State University Foundation, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives Land Assistance Fund, The Brookings Institution and Economic Architecture, LISC Jacksonville, Howard University Legal Clinic, the Center for NYC Neighborhoods, and Catapult Greater Pittsburgh.

Visit the ILHPR website