Stanford University Law School helps build new app to help Louisiana flood victims

By Dee Thompson | Dec 20, 2016

STANFORD – A new app developed in California is helping flood victims in Louisiana rebuild their lives after the devastating floods of last August.

In mid-August, Louisiana was hit with devastating flooding - three times more rain than the state saw from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  Many families lost their homes. Stanford University Law School decided to help in a unique way by developing an app that assists homeowners in establishing clear title to their property in order to be eligible for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds.

The Baton Rouge Area Foundation (BRAF) partnered with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Southeast Louisiana Legal Services and other organizations to develop the app for homeowners. Many properties in Louisiana have been passed on from generation to generation without the property being re-titled in the current homeowner’s name. FEMA has denied financial help to 2,500 homeowners who cannot legally prove they own their homes.

The American Bar Association Center for Innovation and the Stanford University Law School have partnered with BRAF.

“This free program will find all potential heirs to the properties and ask them to sign over their ownership – typically small amounts – to the person living in the home,” according to a BRAF press release.

FEMA funds are given to homeowners who meet certain criteria. Homeowners must meet income eligibility, must show the home has a sound structure, and the home must be their primary residence. Also, the home must be located in one of three parishes: East Baton Rouge, Livingston or Ascension.

The app allows homeowners to enter their personal information and start gathering the documents needed to get FEMA funds.

Margaret Hagan is a fellow at Stanford Law School’s Center on the Legal Profession and a lecturer at Stanford Institute of Design. She has been involved in designing and coding the app since the idea was first discussed several months ago. The ABA Center for Innovation was central to the partnership between Stanford and Louisiana.

“I’ve been on the ABA Futures Commission and that’s transitioned into me joining the ABA Center of Innovation,” Hagan told the Northern California Record.

“Closing the access-to-justice gap and making the legal system accessible to all people is of critical importance. The Center for Innovation will help bring together the best and most forward-thinking ideas for making our system more efficient and available,” ABA President Linda A. Klein said on the ABA website.

“I’ve been talking to Judy Perry Martinez (the chair of the American Bar Association Presidential Commission on the Future of Legal Services) about rapid-response technology projects we could do. The flood happened in August. She sent me an email and said 'What can we build? Do you have any ideas?' From there we started chatting and it kind of went from there,” Hagan said.

They want to make the app accessible to as many people in Louisiana as possible.

“We’re doing both the Android app and the IOS app. The Android app is published and the Apple app should be up by the end of the calendar year – we’re hoping. We’ve got all the content,” she said.

The app was published only the second week of December, so they hope to determine in the next few weeks how effective it will have been in helping the flood victims in Louisiana.

"We envisioned this as an in-your-pocket tool. If you're one of those unlucky people needing help, you can gather information. You can connect to free legal services. The steps of clearing title are all in your hand," Hagan said.

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Organizations in this Story

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Stanford University

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