A proposal for the city to pay $225,000 to a Waco nonprofit providing property-related legal aid has stalled.
Advocates said the plan would help property owners build wealth while saving city resources related to tax-delinquent properties, management of foreclosed properties and code violations. But the perception that the city would be at least partially funding a title-clearing operation that could lead to gentrification doomed the proposal.
City leaders raised that concern in December when the nonprofit, Greater Waco Legal Services, presented the plan to the Waco City Council Budget and Audit Committee. Those concerns have not diminished, and the plan appears to be shelved.
“We are constantly battling a trust issue, and I just think that would leave us a little too vulnerable,” Councilwoman Andrea J. Barefield said this week.
In December, the councilwoman for East Waco said she hoped the plan could reach a point where “the removal of blight doesn’t look like gentrification in the same conversation, because it very easily can.”
The plan was also crafted by Prosper Waco, a city-funded organization that tries to position nonprofit resources to achieve goals related to education, health and financial security.
Title clearing was just one piece of the $225,000 that would have paid for legal work and workshops at community centers focused on the importance of wills, death deeds, probate and other property-related legal services.
Barefield said she believes in the idea but hopes local foundations will step in to help Greater Waco Legal Services, which attorney Kent McKeever founded in 2017 as a spinoff of Mission Waco.
The nonprofit provides legal aid on an income-based sliding fee scale and does not turn away clients looking for representation for issues with immigration, housing, traffic tickets and more.
McKeever said he was shocked to learn the proposal failed, given the work all parties had dedicated to crafting it. He said other cities have similar models to fund this type of work.
“I think the city had some other situations where there are definitely some trust and perception issues, and I guess at the last minute they decided it was too much of a risk for them,” McKeever said.
He said neighborhood leaders and pastors he consulted were supportive of the project.
Councilman Dillon Meek, who represents the area where Greater Waco Legal Services operates on Colcord Avenue, said the nonprofit is “critical to the community’s mission” but that private foundations may be better served to fund its initiatives.
Meek said the city must be strategic in its approach to giving money to nonprofits.
“I always want to preserve flexibility to identify critical needs and say, ‘Is there a space for us to give some level of funding to achieve an important city goal?’ And if there is, then we need to do it,” he said.
In this case, however, a worthy cause was bogged down by larger perceptions about the city’s role in property issues, he said.
“City leadership is evaluating whether or not the city is the best funding source for the scope of work to be done by the organization,” Meek said. “… It’s something that I would be personally willing to work with Kent and continue to talk out to the extent it’d be helpful.”
McKeever said the nonprofit is looking at United Way’s upcoming funding cycle for a similar but scaled-back project.