Good morning. My name is Michael Froehlich. I am the managing attorney of the Homeownership and Consumer Rights Unit at Community Legal Services. On behalf of our low-income clients, I am very pleased to testify in support of Bill No. 210671-A, Councilmember Gilmore Richardson’s bill requiring funeral homes to share information about probating estates and avoiding tangled titles.
As we now know very well, thousands of people in Philadelphia face barriers to achieving homeownership because they have what has been coined as a “tangled title.” This summer, Pew Charitable Trusts identified at least 10,407 homes with tangled titles, affecting 2% of all residential properties, that are collectively worth of $1.1 billion in family wealth. The report also found that tangled titles are concentrated in neighborhoods with high rates of poverty and higher Black populations. Tangled titles can prevent families from obtaining needed repairs, paying a mortgage, fully resolving tax debt, and most important, building intergenerational wealth.
For the last two years, with support from Council and DHCD, Community Legal Services has been able to increase our representation of homeowners to address tangled titles and we look forward to doing more with support from the NPI bond. But the process to untangle tangled titles is laborious, painstaking, & time intensive. And it only gets more difficult the longer a family waits to deal with the problem.
Councilmember Gilmore Richardson’s bill is a smart solution to get ahead of these issues. Under this bill, funeral homes would provide critical information about how to deal with titles to homes when a loved one passes. Funeral homes are expert in helping families navigate a highly emotional and complex situation. Because funerals are often a time when families convene, it can be the best time to confer as a family about what to do with the family home, obtain signatures, and make a plan going forward.
I wanted to close by recognizing the tireless work of Register of Wills Tracey Gordon for elevating this issue with her campaign to “Plan. Prepare. Protect.” And, on behalf of CLS’s low-income clients, thank you to the bill’s sponsor Councilmember Gilmore Richardson, my own West Philly Councilmember Jamie Gauthier, and all of Council for your support addressing tangled titles.