89 community nonprofits will be forced to shut down critical housing and legal services due to loss of funding by March 31
ALBANY, N.Y. -- Today, Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, Assembly Judiciary Committee Chair Jeffrey Dinowitz, Assembly Housing Chair Steven Cymbrowitz, Assembly Banks Chair Kenneth Zebrowski, Assemblymembers Sean Ryan, Monica Wallace and Karen McMahon, along with advocates and homeowners from across the state came together to ask Governor Cuomo to continue critical funding for programs that help vulnerable New Yorkers fight mortgage fraud, scams, and foreclosures. The Communities First coalition of 167 advocacy organizations, businesses and labor unions, is requesting the Governor include $20 million in funding in the executive budget for vital housing counseling and legal services programs that will otherwise be forced to shut down -- a loss for New York families that would cut a safety net of free, trusted services and eliminate hundreds of nonprofit jobs.
Over the last decade, a network of 89 housing counseling and legal service providers have helped families across the state navigate complex housing challenges, including mortgage fraud, displacement, and predatory scams. That funding runs out on March 31, 2019, and will force many organizations to end services and lay off workers unless the Governor appropriates the necessary funding in his amendments to the executive budget proposal. To date, the network has already helped more than 100,000 New York homeowners, primarily working and middle-income families, older New Yorkers, and New Yorkers of color, to avoid displacement caused by foreclosure, fraudsters, or mortgage distress.
“Without the Albany County Rural Housing Alliance assisting me I would not be in my home today. I would essentially be homeless,” said Saratoga County Homeowner Scott Batchelder. “[My counselor] guided me every step of the way. She helped me take all the steps that were needed, contacting the mortgage company and obtaining funds from the New York State Mortgage Assistance Program in order to save my home and have the deed put back in my name.”
"The Communities First Program provides resources to a dynamic state wide network of community and legal services organizations equipped to combat the scourge of mortgage foreclosures and Zombie properties; and is an essential tool in ensuring New Yorkers stay in their homes, preserving and stimulating neighborhoods and affordable housing, and preventing homelessness" said New York State Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes (141st Assembly District). "In Buffalo and Western New York, as well as all across the State, homeowners have been struggling for too long with unscrupulous mortgage practices. Communities of color and senior citizens have been particularly targeted. The Communities First Program helps level the playing field, and I urge the Governor to adequately fund this crucial program in the upcoming 30 day budget amendments."
“Communities First will leverage New York State’s existing network of housing counseling and legal services providers to promote strong and healthy neighborhoods, prevent homelessness, and implement innovate and time-tested solutions to stabilize our homes, families, and communities,” said Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz (D-Northwest Bronx), chair of the Judiciary Committee. “Unfortunately, our communities are at risk of being destabilized by aggressive lenders and destructive federal policies from the Trump Administration. The HOPP program was a boon for New York homeowners, turning the 2008 financial crisis into an opportunity to do good by leveraging bank settlement funding into an extensive network of resources for New York homeowners statewide. Replacing that funding with $20 million for Communities First is the kind of investment that will pay for itself tenfold and will keep our neighbors in their homes.”
“New Yorkers facing foreclosure need our help,” Senate Judiciary Chair Brad Hoylman said. “The Communities First Program provides housing and legal services to ensure no family is left alone in their hour of need. As the Trump administration continues to enable aggressive lenders, it is essential that New Yorkers have the tools they need to avoid foreclosure and remain safely in their homes. Our state needs Communities First, and I’m proud to join my colleagues and advocates in urging Governor Cuomo to fund this critical program.”
“For so many vulnerable homeowners, the organizations in the Communities First network are their only protection against scams that can lead to foreclosure and displacement, which devastate families and eventually destabilize entire communities," said Assemblymember Steven Cymbrowitz, Chair of the Housing Committee. "Therefore, it is critical that we continue to provide funding to these valuable resources that keep our communities stable and keep families in their homes."
“Non-profit counseling agencies like Foreclosure Prevention Services are a life raft for folks that are struggling to stay in their homes”, said Assemblymember Kenneth Zebrowski, Chair of the Assembly Banks Committee. “We must protect and enhance this vital assistance that provides preventative services, housing counseling, and legal support to homeowners. Few things are more traumatizing to a citizen or disruptive to a community than a foreclosure; this funding is an investment to our State.”
"Western New York is fortunate to have an experienced and well-trained coalition of six housing counseling and legal services agencies, which have serviced thousands of Western New York families over the past few years," said Assemblymember Monica Wallace. "The value added to our state through inclusion of this funding is indisputable. Foreclosures impact every homeowner in New York State, causing billions of dollars in lost home equity wealth across the board. The organizations who would receive this funding work directly with homeowners to prevent foreclosures, ensuring that homeowners across New York do not lose the value in their homes due to foreclosed properties nearby. This funding is critical, and I will continue fighting to ensure that these incredible organizations receive the funding they need to continue serving New York families."
“Families scrimp and save, working hard to achieve the American dream of owning their own home,” said Assemblymember Karen McMahon. “Yet, sometimes that dream is stolen from them by unscrupulous lenders, mortgage scams, foreclosure and other crises that literally hit home. It’s essential that state continues to fund housing counseling and legal services nonprofits to ensure families can stay in their homes.”
Without dedicated funding in the executive budget for the Communities First agenda, nonprofits are unable to adequately plan for the future and are already curtailing intake, and New Yorkers’ access to these programs will be drastically reduced. If these programs are not maintained, homeowners will lose access to free legal assistance in navigating the complex judicial foreclosure and loss mitigation process, putting them at higher risk of losing their homes. An estimated 18,000 homeowners won’t receive help next year, and nearly two-thirds of New York State’s foreclosure prevention program capacity will disappear overnight. Elected officials will also have nowhere to refer constituents for free assistance — potentially leading homeowners to pay exorbitant fees or to fall for scams. Finally, the statewide hotline and intake for homeowners will be shut down, cutting off a critical lifeline to New York families.
The potential funding cliff comes at a time when tens of thousands of New York homeowners and their communities are still struggling with unmanageable mortgage payments. Foreclosures remain at crisis levels: In 2017, there were 20,000 new foreclosure cases filed in New York. This year, the number of 90-Day Pre-Foreclosure Notices—a signal of mortgages going into foreclosure—is projected to be even higher than the year before. Seniors are especially vulnerable, as they get caught up the surge in reverse mortgage foreclosures across the state.
Over 100 employees will be in danger of losing their jobs, and 28 legal assistance programs across the state will be forced to close entirely. Finally, New Yorkers are reeling from Trump tax increases that hit many New Yorkers hard. The network of homeowner support services are needed more than ever to ensure housing stability and strong local governments.
“Older homeowners – particularly those of color – face significant risk of foreclosure and are often targeted by mortgage and deed theft scams. Helping New Yorkers remain in their homes and communities where they want to be is a key component of disrupting racial and ethnic disparities, and making New York livable for people of all ages and colors,” said AARP Executive Council Member Jamir Couch. “We urge the Governor to lead the way in ensuring continuity of funding for the housing and legal counseling services that will help so many vulnerable homeowners.”
“The foreclosure crisis is far from over, especially here in New York City,” said Meghan Faux, Project Director at Legal Services NYC. “New Yorkers, specifically low-income residents and communities of color, are still facing high foreclosures rates, scams, and frauds. In fact, a recent study showed that nearly half of all recent pre-foreclosure notices recently issued in New York State were sent to homeowners in New York City and Long Island. But without continued state funding, Legal Services NYC will no longer be able to provide critical legal help to New York homeowners, leaving them to fend for themselves against predatory lenders and scams. In a time of rising housing costs, gentrification, and threats to existing mortgage protections, free legal help like ours is the only thing safeguarding New Yorkers from losing their homes."
“It is crucial that the Governor’s office allocate the funding needed to protect and support homeowners across the state. This is the opportunity to stand up for the rights of working-class New Yorkers, and to ensure they continue to have access to resources that will combat zombie properties, reduce displacement, and safeguard at-risk consumers from scammers,” said Christie Peale, CEO/Executive Director of the Center for NYC Neighborhoods.
“I have dedicated my career to foreclosure prevention work,” said Kirsten Keefe, Senior Attorney at Empire Justice Center. “I have seen over and over again how people’s lives are transformed when an advocate can help them deal with mortgage servicers and help them through the complicated process of saving their homes. New Yorkers have been lucky – this state has built the best foreclosure prevention approach in the nation, from strong homeowner protections in the law to stellar housing counselling and legal services. New York needs Communities First to keep our communities and neighborhoods strong”.
“Unless New York States provides funding for ongoing foreclosure prevention programs, Long Island will suffer a preventable disaster. Long Island has never recovered from the foreclosure crisis. We have the highest foreclosure rates in the state and are seeing an increase in mortgage defaults which includes an increasing number of seniors getting into trouble with their reverse mortgages,” said Ian Wilder, Executive Director of Long Island Housing Services, Inc. “On top of that, Long Island will suffer two new waves of foreclosures due to the Trump administration policies of ending TPS and capping the SALT deduction. Without non-profit foreclosure prevention housing counselors and attorney to act as the first line of defense, Long Island communities will suffer a series of aftershocks from the increased foreclosure sale.”
For additional information, please visit the Communities First website at http://www.nycommunitiesfirst.com