Since 2012, attorney general's foreclosure prevention and relief programs have helped more than 50,000 New York families fight to keep their homes
Earlier this week, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced $11.5 million in new funding for more than two-dozen legal services organizations statewide to help prevent foreclosures, keep families in their homes, and rebuild communities hit hardest by the housing crash.
Awards will be granted to 28 legal services providers with proven track records of providing services to at-risk homeowners. The grants, which are now before the state comptroller for review and final approval, are for one year with a possibility of a one-year renewal. The new round of funding brings the total foreclosure prevention investment by the office of the attorney general to more than $70 million.
The new round of funding will support the Homeowner Protection Program (HOPP), a network of nearly 90 housing counseling and legal services agencies that provide free, high-quality assistance to at-risk families across New York to help them avoid foreclosure. A report released this summer by the attorney general's office showed the program already helped more than 50,000 New York families.
The attorney general has committed $100 million to support HOPP from the settlements that his office negotiated with the nation's largest banks following the collapse of the housing market.
"New York has long been at the forefront of creating innovative ways to address the foreclosure crisis," Schneiderman said. "I have said since the day I took office that no one should ever lose their home because they didn't have access to a lawyer. My office is dedicated to using all the tools at our disposal to make sure mortgage servicers are held accountable in providing relief to New York families who continue to weather the foreclosure crisis."
The legal services providers who will be granted awards include:
The $11.5 Million in funding comes on the heels of an additional $10.1 million investment for housing counseling agencies across New York that was awarded earlier this year, funded by settlements the attorney general reached with Bank of America and Citibank in 2014. Those grants are going to 56 housing counseling agencies that are part of the HOPP network.
"Attorney General Schneiderman's Homeowner Protection Program is a critical resource for New Yorkers," said Christie Peale, executive director at the Center for NYC Neighborhoods. "Middle- and working-class homeowners across the state have faced so many struggles - the foreclosure crisis, Hurricane Sandy, predatory scams and more. Throughout, this incredible program has been there to help New York families. The Center for NYC Neighborhoods applauds Attorney General Schneiderman for his continued support of the program at a time when New Yorkers need it most."
In addition to HOPP funding, the attorney general has established systems designed to hold mortgage servicers accountable and ensure New York homeowners are getting the relief to which they are entitled. In 2012, the attorney general established the mortgage servicing "Escalation Program" through a partner agency, the Center for New York City Neighborhoods (CNYCN). The escalation program allows HOPP grantees to raise the profile of cases that are particularly difficult or where servicers are not being responsive to modification requests in a timely or reasonable fashion. CNYCN has established relationships with senior-level staff at many of the mortgage servicing companies that can quickly address these issues. Over the past three years, 562 escalation cases have been raised by HOPP partners, and 504 of those cases have now been resolved.
In another innovation spearheaded by the attorney general, Long Island HOPP partners collaborated with the Nassau and Suffolk County Courts to create "Bank Days," when mortgage servicers like Bank of America and Wells Fargo offer struggling homeowners the face-to- face support they need. High-level executives, resolution managers and underwriters have attended these twice-a-month events to resolve issues on the spot and help get homeowners loan modifications. Of the more than 850 cases that Bank of America has worked on at these events this year, 50 percent have been resolved.
The attorney general has made combatting the housing crisis a priority of his administration. His fight against the foreclosure crisis includes the HOPP program and two other key pillars: the New York State Mortgage Assistance Program and AGScamHelp.com.
New York State Mortgage Assistance Program
The New York State Mortgage Assistance Program (NYS-MAP), which began processing applications from across the state in October 2014, provides families at immediate risk of losing their homes with small loans to pay off debts that are a barrier to mortgage modification.
NYS-MAP loans, which may be as much as $40,000, help families who are struggling to avoid foreclosure to pay off mortgage arrears, delinquent second or third mortgage liens, or unpaid property tax bills. The program is funded with money from the bank settlements.
The program is modeled after a New York City-funded pilot program administered through the Center for New York City Neighborhoods. OAG is working with CNYCN, as well as the Empire Justice Center, to assist in the operations of NYS-MAP. Both agencies are contracted by the office of the attorney general to assist with the administration of HOPP.
In less than a year, NYS-MAP has approved 438 loans across the state totaling more than $13 million. The average loan amount, statewide, is $26,320.
AGScamHelp.com, launched in December, is a Web-based app that helps homeowners avoid foreclosure rescue scams and determine whether a mortgage assistance company has been vetted by a government agency. OAG urges homeowners at risk of foreclosure to work with a free, qualified housing counseling agency within HOPP. The app is supported by funds from the bank settlements.
OAG launched AGScamHelp.com in direct response to an observed increase in mortgage rescue scams and deed thefts in New York and across the country. According to a December report by the Center for NYC Neighborhoods and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, more than 42,000 homeowners have been conned out of $100 million nationwide.
New Yorkers have been hit particularly hard. From March 2010 to September 2014, New York homeowners submitted more than 2,700 foreclosure rescue scam complaints to the Lawyer Committee for Civil Rights, documenting at least $8.25 million in losses. Since launching the app in December, the OAG has invested in a targeted advertising campaign to ensure vulnerable homeowners are using the site. As of September, AGScamHelp has been attracting an average of 4,000 users per week.
AGScamHelp.com has several informational features:
•Search Government-Vetted Companies: AGScamHelp.com allows consumers to search the name of an individual or company to determine if that entity is a "government-vetted" agency (that is, either a member of the attorney general's HOPP network or a HUD-certified counseling agency). If the company searched is not a government-vetted agency, the consumer will be told to proceed with caution and advised with several tips on how to identify signs of a foreclosure rescue scam.
•Locate Nearby Counseling Partners: The Web-based app also features an interactive map that allows consumers to find the nearest HOPP grantee. The attorney general has dedicated $100 million to fund HOPP, a network of more than 85 housing counseling and legal services agencies across the state that are dedicated to providing free assistance to New Yorkers.
•Report Scams: Consumers who have already been contacted by, or are in the process of working with a company suspected of operating a foreclosure rescue scam, also will have the option to file a complaint with the attorney general's office. They will be directed to a separate page where they can complete a complaint form online. All complaints will be directed to the attorney general's bureau of consumer frauds and protection, and will be mediated by the attorney general's office.
•Get Tips: AGScamHelp.com offers details on how to recognize signs of a foreclosure rescue scam, including samples of scam letters and other materials utilized by fraudsters to target homeowners, and provides information about recent foreclosure scams that have been the subject of enforcement actions brought by the attorney general's office and other law enforcement agencies.
Read the full 2015 HOPP report here.