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Schneiderman announces $40 million in additional funding for homeowner protection program

by jmaloni


Mon, Sep 29th 2014 04:35 pm

New funds bring total commitment to $100 million and provide two more years of support to homeowners hurt by mortgage crisis

HOPP funds free housing counseling and legal services across New York

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced his office is committing up to $40 million in additional funding to organizations that provide free, high-quality housing counseling and legal services to struggling homeowners around New York through his homeowner protection program. The new funding, which will extend the program for an additional two years, brings the total commitment of funds by the attorney general's office to $100 million over five years to help New York families stay in their homes.

The HOPP program is designed to provide free housing counseling and legal services to homeowners facing foreclosure - and particularly to ensure no New Yorker has to navigate the loan modification or foreclosure process alone. Of the 34,000 families helped by HOPP since 2012, thousands of families have been able to stay in their homes.

Since it was established in 2012, HOPP has allocated funding to 89 legal services and housing counseling agencies working in every county in New York. At the Center for Housing Solutions Regional Summit in New Windsor, and the annual conference of the New York State Coalition for Excellence in Homeownership Education in Albany, Schneiderman announced the additional funds and discussed findings in his new report, "Staying Home: A Report on the Second Year of New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman's Homeowner Protection Program." In the program's first two years, more than 9,303 homeowners - close to one third of those helped - found the program by calling the HOPP hotline, at 855-HOME-456.

"After just two years, our homeowner protection program has helped tens of thousands of New Yorkers in danger of losing their homes. This additional $40 million extends my commitment to help homeowners and communities across New York recover from the devastating impact of the housing crisis," Schneiderman said. "No individual or family should have to navigate the foreclosure process alone. By funding housing counseling and legal services, we are keeping families in their homes and stabilizing struggling communities across the state of New York."

Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz said, "Thanks to Attorney General Schneiderman, homeowners across New York state have a friend who can help them with much-needed counseling and advice when they are threatened with the loss of their home, and will work with them if they are struggling with the foreclosure process. Preventing homes from being foreclosed on also prevents those buildings from becoming potential 'zombie homes,' which blight neighborhoods and diminish property values for all. With Attorney General Schneiderman's help, more New York homeowners have been able to successfully remain in their homes and avoid foreclosure."

The report shows the areas hardest-hit by the mortgage crisis were low- and moderate-income neighborhoods in major population centers, including New York City, Long Island, the Hudson Valley and several upstate cities, including Troy and Buffalo. It also found the majority of those who sought assistance from the HOPP network came from households with children - including almost 5,800 single-parent households - underscoring the impact the mortgage crisis has had on families across New York.

In October 2012, the attorney general's office launched HOPP, with 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 homeowners need to submit applications for loan modifications. This process often results in lower monthly mortgage payments and prevents foreclosures from going forward - but the process can take more than a year to negotiate.

The report, which covers HOPP services provided between October 2012 and September 2014, shows families across the state have benefited from the HOPP program. Regional breakdowns of families served are as follows:

  • Hudson Valley: More than 5,000 families served.
  • New York City: More than 12,000 families served.
  • Monroe County and its surrounding areas: More than 2,000 families served.
  • Mid Central New York: More than 1,700 families served.
  • Capital and Northern New York: More than 1,400 families served.
  • Long Island: More than 8,800 families served.
  • Buffalo and its surrounding areas: More than 2,100 families served.

The office of the attorney general has made it a priority to ensure HOPP funding and servicers are specifically targeted to the communities where the foreclosure crisis has been the most devastating. For instance, the attorney general's research indicates Long Island has some of the highest rates of mortgage distress in New York. Roughly 24 percent of the mortgages in the towns of Hempstead and Brentwood are 90 days or more delinquent. In response, the attorney general's office has increased funding to HOPP groups serving Long Island by more than $1 million, from about $3.4 million last year up to $4.4 million in 2014-15.

The report also highlights some of the families who have been able to stay in their homes as a result of the program. Among them are:

•After losing her father in 2008, Shari Roufberg, who lives in Westchester County, became bogged down in a protracted legal battle, which ultimately caused her to lose her family business. By 2011, Roufberg had exhausted her savings and was having difficulty making mortgage payments on her home. Initially, Roufberg attempted to negotiate with her mortgage company on her own. She got nowhere. Then she heard about Westchester Residential Opportunities, a housing counseling agency and HOPP grantee that serves Westchester County. A housing counselor at WRO spent almost three years working to get Roufberg a mortgage modification. In May, she was granted a permanent loan modification, which significantly lowered her monthly mortgage payments.

"I could not have gotten through this without the help of WRO," Roufberg said. "It was such a stressful time for me, and every day I feared I'd find the sheriff at my door, ready to evict me. The assistance I received provided tremendous relief and made it easier for me to sleep at night."

In addition to providing legal assistance to New York homeowners recovering from the foreclosure crisis, Schneiderman proposed new legislation earlier this year to help communities across New York that are burdened by vacant and abandoned properties. He proposed legislation, which was passed and signed into law this year, to increase the maximum allowable number of land banks from 10 to 20. Land banks are local nonprofit organizations charged with rehabilitating or tearing down vacant and abandoned properties. Many cities do not have land banks, but have a need for the kind of community redevelopment that land banks can make possible. With the passage of Schneiderman's legislation authorizing 10 new land banks, this resource will reach even more communities in need.

Another piece of legislation proposed by Schneiderman addresses the problem of so-called "zombie properties." Too often, 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 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 a 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 according to U.S. Census data, 50,000 housing units in Erie and Niagara counties - about 10 percent of the entire housing stock - are vacant.

Schneiderman proposed legislation to 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.

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