Unlocking Heir Property Ownership

Assessing the Impact on Low and Mid-Income Georgians and Their Communities

A significant part of the economic portfolio of millions of Americans is the equity value of their homes. Many will seek to cash in the investment in mortgage payments and maintenance made over the years to secure a comfortable life in retirement. Others may plan on passing the homestead and its value on to their children or grandchildren. While there may be concerns about the current fair market value of their property, most homeowners have no doubt that this value belongs to them. In fact, many consider their homes or farms their greatest source of wealth and greatest protection from poverty.

For some though—poor people of color for the most part—this “American Dream” can unexpectedly become a nightmare when they learn that they do not have sole ownership of the homes they have lived in or the farms they have tilled for decades. They learn that their greatest asset can be lost through no fault of their own. Lacking secure property rights, these people can face impoverishment if they are forced off their land.

Research highlighted in the report demonstrates that there are potentially thousands of land holders in Georgia who may not be able to access the wealth that has accrued in their homes and farms over decades and who may be at risk of unexpectedly losing the right to live on and work the land held by their families for generations. Many of these citizens are currently unaware of the tenuous nature of their land holdings and will often not have the resources to obtain the legal services necessary to protect their interests.