The city of Mobile found a solution to a problem affecting 1,300 to 1,400 households, one that could potentially prevent neighborhoods from falling into decline.

Facilitated by Legal Services Alabama’s Mobile office, the “Leaving a Legacy” program will help provide free wills to low-income residents of the city. The program will not only help those in need, but will benefit the city by helping prevent future blight problems affecting properties without heirs.

Homes often, if not specifically added to a will, are left with no clear owner and become heir property, according to a statement from Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s office.

“Heir property is one of the greatest contributing factors to blight in any medium to large-size city, Mobile included,” the statement reads. “These types of properties are often not transferred properly or are transferred to multiple heirs. This is particularly a problem when the heirs include multiple generations and are out of state, causing the home to become forgotten, abandoned and unmaintained.”

Jamey Roberts, senior director of neighborhood development, said a simple windshield survey of homes in the city revealed that more than 1,300 fell under this distinction. Many of those homes have already or could fall into disrepair, leaving a long-term impact on entire neighborhoods.

“We run into some problems with heir properties,” he said. “ … They can stall out a new market and then it spirals down and affects neighboring properties. Just about every problem we have is because of heir property.”

LSA will be hiring an attorney using Community Development Block Grants to oversee the program, Roberts said. That person will first hold seminars on the general importance of wills to help market the program, Roberts said, before meeting one-on-one with anyone who qualifies under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development guidelines.

The guidelines state that in order to qualify, a family of four must make $44,100 or less annually. The one-on-one meetings will help turn a sometimes arduous process of creating a will into a simple step-by-step project.

“We want to leave a legacy, not a burden,” Stimpson said in the statement. “This program ensures the multi-generational loss of wealth is not passed down to future generations. It is one more piece to the puzzle to restoring our historic neighborhoods and leads us farther on the path to becoming to becoming the safest, most business and family-friendly city.”

Roberts said the city hopes to help 100 residents complete wills within the first year of the program. Going forward, an applicant for housing rehabilitation assistance with the city will have to have created a will first, Roberts said.

Roberts, who held a similar position with the city of Birmingham, said he helped create a will program there and it was very successful. He hopes that success can translate to Mobile.