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Impact Stories Published September 1, 2018

The Gift of a Home

Gladys Santiago was the caretaker for Ellen Stevens (not her  real name), an elderly homeowner in Philadelphia’s Frankford neighborhood, during some of the final years of Ellen’s life. Gladys provided care for Ellen at home and, in time, Ellen asked Gladys and Gladys’ family to move in with her. Their connection went beyond caregiver and patient. As Gladys puts it, “We built a family. I used to tell Ellen, ‘We’re here with you. We’re going to be here until the end.’” And Gladys and her children did just that. When Ellen passed away without a will in September 2012, Gladys temporarily moved out, but Ellen’s sisters reached out and insisted that Gladys remain in the property. They had their own homes in New Jersey and knew how close Gladys and Ellen had been.

In September 2015 Gladys was continuing to live in and care for the property when she learned it was in danger of being sold at Sheriff’s Sale for unpaid real estate taxes. Ellen had started falling behind on the taxes in 2011, when her health significantly declined. Gladys knew she needed to save the home and reached out to legal services for assistance.

As Gladys was not an heir of Ellen, and had no legal interest in the property, the agreement and cooperation of Ellen’s sisters (the only heirs) was essential for Gladys to preserve the home. There was no question in their minds that Gladys should have the house. They signed paperwork to allow Gladys to be the administrator of Ellen’s estate and penned a letter supporting Gladys becoming the owner of the property. With the guidance of Philadelphia Legal Assistance and Philadelphia VIP, Gladys  successfully entered into a payment plan for the delinquent real estate taxes, avoiding Sheriff’s Sale of the home, and has remained on the plan since.

Next, VIP matched Gladys with a volunteer attorney dynamic duo — Amorie Hummel and Amanda Thai of Cozen O’Connor — for her probate case. Gladys says, “There’s not a word out there for those two. So awesome, patient, and good. They took me through everything step-by-step.” Amorie and Amanda energetically navigated each twist and turn with Gladys. The pair had Gladys appointed administrator of Ellen’s estate. They helped her obtain an undue hardship waiver from the Department of Human Services for the medical care that Ellen received at the end of her life. They had Ellen’s sisters sign the remaining paperwork needed to transfer title into Gladys’ name. And they prepared the deed giving Gladys title to her home – which, at long last, was recorded in December 2018.

Ellen’s family’s gift of a home continues to fill Gladys with appreciation. Gladys raised her children there, both when Ellen was alive and after her passing. Since obtaining title, Gladys has begun long-overdue renovations to the home, while remaining in her payment plan for the delinquent real estate taxes, both of which were made possible by having the deed in her name.

“Blessings don’t come easy. What [Ellen] did for me, not even some family members would do. We became family members.”

Gladys is grateful for everyone who helped her on the road to homeownership, from Ellen and her sisters, to Philadelphia Legal Assistance, Philadelphia VIP, and Amorie and Amanda. “I appreciate every minute you all gave me.”