Wells Fargo and Legal Services of Eastern Missouri are working together to provide pro bono counsel to those facing eviction and housing issues.
By collaborating with Wells Fargo’s pro bono legal team, Legal Services is able to increase the number of pro bono attorneys available to assist clients in eviction cases.
“We quickly realized housing is not just getting access to affordable and safe housing, but also rental assistance and eviction assistance so people can stay in their homes, especially coming out of COVID-19,” Vianey Beltran, a Wells Fargo representative, said. “Working with agencies like Legal Services of Eastern Missouri really helps alleviate that pressure. We’ve been very impressed with the work that they’ve been doing to advocate for individuals and families.”
Jim Guest, director of the Volunteer Lawyers Program at Legal Services, said working with corporate partners is a combination of interest and needs, but stresses the mission is to serve the clients.
“We decided to focus on housing cases because it’s a huge need for the clients,” Guest said. “It’s people facing real legal issues that affect their lives, and having a lawyer makes a huge difference.”
Guest said the next steps were to set up training for pro bono lawyers on what kind of tenants they’re representing and information speciﬁc to housing cases in St. Louis to ensure they feel prepared.
“It became a natural ﬁt to have Wells Fargo add their expertise to ours,” Guest said.
Missouri is just one of the areas where Wells Fargo makes a community impact as they also focus on programming in small business growth, ﬁnancial health, affordable housing and more. In addition to providing eviction support, Wells Fargo is also focused on removing systemic barriers to housing access and affordability.
“The number one goal for preventative resources is getting people into affordable housing that they have ownership of,” Beltran said. “Those resources included anything from mortgage counseling, credit counseling, and all of your ﬁnancial literacy tools that are out there that many of our nonproﬁt partners provide resources on.”
Wells Fargo also works to ensure homes are able to be passed down through generations by providing education and resources to aid that process.
The value of working with community groups, Beltran said, is trust.
“These organizations are employing people who know the neighborhoods, know the demographics and have the expertise to do the work,” she said. “I think that is invaluable. Organizations like Legal Services of Eastern Missouri understand the client and the end goal and how to balance those worlds.”
Having counsel that understands the community means Legal Services can provide assistance with language or cultural barriers, she said, ensuring that every population has meaningful access to the resources.
“In my experience, the people in need of pro bono assistance are too used to being unheard,” said Paul Evans, assistant general counsel at Wells Fargo. “The knowledge that someone is helping them can be a huge lift.”
Guest describes the collaboration as a win-win for everyone involved.
“The organization and the law ﬁrm beneﬁt because they want to do great work,” he said. “I view it as a beneﬁt for Legal Services because we’re able to help clients, and in turn, clients have access to more experts who can strive for positive outcomes.”
Evans said thanks to LSEM, Wells Fargo is able to extend its impact.
“LSEM has the experience to put volunteers from Wells Fargo’s Legal team to work,” he said. “Without the assistance of an organization with LSEM’s expertise, Wells Fargo employees wouldn’t be able to put their skills to work in the community with the same level of impact.”
Senior Counsel at Wells Fargo Ashlin Mosby re-emphasized the importance of doing pro bono work in the housing space and why it matters to her.
“Access to a place to live is a basic need and a human right — not a luxury,” she said. “Without a place to live, it’s almost impossible to have a job or do anything other than focus on basic survival. I don’t want anyone to have to face homelessness, regardless of their circumstances, and that is why this work matters to me.”
Mosby said there are a number of ways pro bono lawyers support clients, including helping a tenant learn about their protections and how to take advantage of them, or how to work out a payment arrangement with the landlord.
If you are an attorney who is interested in volunteering with Legal Services of Eastern Missouri to help tenants facing eviction, please visit https://Legal Services.org/volunteer/.