Rally to save forclosure prevention advocates

Elected officials are calling on the state to continue funding the free attorneys who help homeowners in trouble with their mortgages, negotiate with creditors.

Members of Legal Services NYC, along with Senator Jeff Klein, Senator Gustavo Rivera, Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, and a hundred legal aids and people who have been helped by them in mortgage modifications rallied on the steps of the Bronx County Courthouse on Friday, March 18 to call for the restoration of $15 million in state funding for the Foreclosure Prevention Program.

The Foreclosure Prevention Program was cut in preliminary 2011-12 proposed state budgets, possibly spelling the end of the program and leading to a rise in the number of foreclosures as homeowners who have run into trouble will be unable to renegotiate with their mortgage holders. Funding for the program provided by about 120 different agencies is scheduled to run out on December 31.

“More than a year ago, we fought for laws that would make settlement conferences available for all homeowners facing foreclosure, so that New Yorkers would be able to sit down with their bank and find a way to stay in their home,” Klein said.

“Legal assistance programs and foreclosure counseling programs are a key component to this legislation, and it is imperative that we include funding in this year’s budget to make programs like these survive.”

There are currently about 3,447 mortgage loans in foreclosure in the Bronx, and the borough ranks second in the state in loans that are in pre-foreclosure, according to Klein’s office. The group is seeking to get funding for the legal program back into Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive budget for 2012.

The elected officials were calling on the governor to restore the funding after their conferences could not do so in their own budget recommendations, as a result of the financial troubles in the state.

“We know that the foreclosure crisis is not over because our neighbors, family, and friends are feeling squeezed and struggle with issues of foreclosure every day in the Bronx,” Rivera stated. “But if that were not enough, experts are telling us that we are only a third of the way through the foreclosure crises. It would be irresponsible to cut funding for successful foreclosure prevention to prevent the interruption of these critical services throughout our state.”

Vacant properties are not good for stable home owning communities, often dragging entire neighborhoods downhill, and keeping as many taxpaying citizens in their homes as possible in order to prevent stagnation is a smart move, Assemblyman Benedetto said.

Attorneys who advocate for clients who may face foreclosure deal directly with loan service providers, who can often reap substantial fees if a loan goes into foreclosure, attorneys at the rally said.

The reforms enacted by the state legislature over the past few years, such as 90-day notices and settlement conferences, would be rendered meaningless if funding was cut so severely that homeowners facing foreclosure do not have access to attorneys, said Justin Haines, director of the foreclosure prevention unit for Bronx Legal Services NYC.

At the rally was Jacob Issac of 537 Baretto Street in Hunts Point, who was able to negotiate a nearly 50% percent reduction in a $3,000 per month mortgage payment to stay in his house with his two young children.

“They got the modification for myself and my kids, and without it, we may have been homeless,” Issac said.

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