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VIP in Action Published January 26, 2022

Following the Data: VIP Volunteers Serve in Hardest-Hit Neighborhoods

This month, the Thomson Reuters Foundation published an article exploring the ways U.S. cities use data to help underserved communities during the pandemic. A VIP homeownership client’s story helped illustrate the point. Here is an excerpt:

Donald Gadson and his wife had been meaning to sort out their financial affairs when she died after a sudden illness – plunging the family and their century-old Philadelphia home into legal limbo.

Five years on, Gadson recently got matters in order with help from a legal aid organization, ensuring that the family home – which had been in his wife’s name – will eventually pass to his two sons.

“A home is a place where you can start building wealth – because it’s something stable, something you know,” Gadson, 62, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

Many more city residents beset by “tangled title” issues may now be able to access similar legal assistance thanks to a pioneering analysis of home ownership data released last year.

Officials say the research will help them pinpoint aid for some 10,000 families unable to access $1 billion in property. A disproportionate number were found to be from communities of color here, with many clustered in just three city districts.

As well as freezing family-owned wealth, title issues can prevent residents from accessing basic government services or post-disaster assistance here, and make them vulnerable to predatory development.

The Philadelphia initiative is among a growing number of projects across the United States using data to address inequality – an effort that has gained momentum during the pandemic and since 2020’s Black Lives Matter protests.

“We’re at the beginning of a really exciting time, where we’re able to allow the data to drive us to think about how to problem-solve,” said James P. Leonard, Philadelphia’s commissioner of records.

He said the use of the data, which had been analyzed in a study by the nonprofit Pew Charitable Trusts, marked a potentially “transformational” new chapter for the city.

At local legal aid organization Philadelphia VIP, home ownership attorney P. Michael Jones said the data flags exactly who needs assistance, when previously they relied on a less targeted approach.

“Thanks to the data, we’re able to target specific areas and even households that are impacted,” he said.

This summer, Gadson met with a Philadelphia VIP attorney who within months was able to fix the family’s legal problems, adding his sons’ names to the house deed and resolving other outstanding issues.

“It lifted a whole weight off,” he said.

To read the entire article, click here.