More than 1,500 homeowners served, with 797 approved or pending loan modifications
A.G. details new legislation to address "zombie properties" and increase number of land banks statewide
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced his office's homeowner protection program, or HOPP, has served 24,000 New Yorkers statewide in less than a year and half, resulting in 6,660 approved and pending loan modifications. Of those homeowners, 1,519 reside in the counties of Erie and Niagara; and of the loan modifications approved and pending statewide, 797 are located in Erie and Niagara. Since October 2012, HOPP has allocated significant funding to 36 legal services organizations and 56 housing counseling agencies dedicated to providing free foreclosure prevention services to struggling homeowners.
In a press conference Friday at the Erie County executive's office, Schneiderman also detailed the impact of his proposed legislation to increase the number of land banks in New York from 10 to 20, which will be introduced by Assembly Member William Magnarelli. In separate legislation also outlined by the A.G., lenders would be required to take responsibility for "zombie properties" - thousands of abandoned homes around the state that are vacant and cause great harm to communities. That bill will also create a statewide registry of zombie properties, so municipalities will be able to track abandoned homes and enforce local property maintenance codes. U.S. Census data reveals 50,000 housing units in Erie and Niagara counties - about 10 percent of the entire housing stock - are vacant.
"After just over a year, our homeowner protection program is getting real results and helping New Yorkers in danger of losing their homes. With a renewed commitment to providing resources for homeowners and communities across our state, we can combat the devastating impact of the housing crisis," Schneiderman said. "The next step - with new 'zombie properties' and land bank legislation - is to take the burden off our cities and towns, and help them recover from an epidemic of vacant properties. By rehabilitating towns still reeling from the housing market collapse, we can ensure that all New Yorkers can feel safe and secure in their homes and communities."
At the press conference, Schneiderman joined host Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz; U.S. Congressman Brian Higgins; Cheektowaga Town Supervisor Mary Holtz; Maria Whyte, chairwoman of the Buffalo Erie Niagara Land Improvement Corp. and commissioner of the Department of Environment and Planning; and Jocelyn Gordon, BENLIC executive director. Together, they announced the hiring of BENLIC's first executive director, and discussed ways to address the problem of vacant and abandoned properties in the region.
In October 2012, the attorney general's office launched HOPP, a three-year commitment of $60 million to fund housing counseling and legal services for struggling New York homeowners. HOPP counselors provide at-risk mortgage holders with a range of services, including direct advocacy with lenders, financial counseling and assistance in preparing the complex documentation that homeowners need to submit applications for loan modifications. This process usually results in lower monthly mortgage payments and prevents foreclosures from going forward, but it can take more than a year to negotiate.
Along with providing legal assistance to New York homeowners recovering from the foreclosure crisis, Schneiderman has also proposed new legislation to help localities statewide that are still struggling. One of the attorney general's bills would change state law to increase the maximum allowable number of land banks from 10 to 20. Many cities do not have land banks, but have a critical need for the kind of community redevelopment that land banks can make possible. With this expansion, this valuable resource will reach even more communities in need.
The attorney general's other legislation would address the problem of so-called "zombie properties." Too often, he said, when a homeowner falls behind on mortgage payments and receives a notice of arrears or a foreclosure notice, the homeowner abandons the property. Many families may not understand they have the right to remain in their home until a judge declares the foreclosure complete, which can take years. At the same time, there is evidence that lenders are actually slowing down the foreclosure process and, in some cases, seeking court orders to cancel the foreclosure action in the middle of the process. With no one maintaining these derelict properties, they become vulnerable to crime, decay, vandalism and arson. Furthermore, these "zombie homes" decrease the property value of neighboring homes and become an enormous burden for local code enforcement and emergency service providers.
An epidemic of "zombie homes" has impacted communities statewide, including in Erie and Niagara counties. Across the state, RealtyTrac estimates more than 15,000 properties to be "zombie" foreclosures. And, again, U.S. Census data reveals 50,000 housing units in Erie and Niagara counties are vacant.
The bill in development by the attorney general's office would close the current loophole, changing state law to make lenders responsible for delinquent properties soon after they are abandoned - not at the end of a lengthy foreclosure process. It would also create a statewide registry for "zombie" properties, so municipalities will be able to track abandoned homes and enforce local property maintenance codes.
Homeowners who are in need of assistance are encouraged to call the attorney general's statewide foreclosure hotline at 855-HOME-456 and visit www.AGHomeHelp.com to connect with organizations and agencies in their area that can provide foreclosure prevention services.