Saving homes is financier’s ultimate goal

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Essoham Toyi immigrated to the United States from Togo in 2001 and worked long hours at modest pay. In 2006, the truck driver met a realtor.

“He took me to a three-family house and told me I could buy no money down,” the 37-year old said.

The realtor quoted a reasonable interest rate and monthly payment but when Toyi went to close the deal, he shouldered a $5,000/month payment. Toyi figured he would squeak by for a year and then refinance. That was what his realtor suggested. But Toyi never was able to refinance and in 2008 his $615,000 property dipped to $400,000.

Toyi was lost until he found David Aviles and the Community Enrichment & Education Foundation (CEE). Aviles’ team has helped hundreds of Toyis refinance and avoid foreclosure. Trouble is, CEE needs help itself.

“The foreclosures will continue,” Aviles said. “We’re good and we’re free. But if we aren’t funded, we’ll fizzle out.”

Aviles is a Bronx-born veteran of the real estate and mortgage industry. He understands banks. He headlined first-time homebuyer seminars for 16 years. In 2008, when the foreclosure crisis kicked into high gear, Aviles founded CEE.

His team of seasoned financiers and eager youngsters – Aviles trains junior staff members from the Bronx – won a $400,000 loan from the Consortium for Worker Education. In October 2008 CEE launched from the offices of elected officials in southeast Queens.

“We wanted to be at foreclosure “ground zero,” Aviles said. “Jamaica, Queens.”

Promised millions of dollars in State Senate funds through Senator Malcolm Smith, CEE rescued 39 homes from foreclosure in three days, Aviles said. He welcomed some 30 employees and agreed to help more than 600 distressed homeowners. To date, CEE has refinanced more than 200 homes.

But the State Senate leadership crisis in June knocked Aviles for a loop. Millions promised to CEE were never earmarked and Aviles’ team spent the summer unpaid.

“The people [at CEE] are genuine angels,” Aviles said. “We want to help.”

Today, CEE operates out of a cubbyhole office in the Hutchinson Metro Center and is knee-deep in foreclosures from Wakefield to Throggs Neck. Although Congressman Joseph Crowley, Senator Jeff Klein and Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. want to keep CEE afloat, Aviles needs $5 million to reach homeowners around the city, he explained.

His front row seat has Aviles determined to teach the next generation of homebuyers money sense. Foreclosure panic gripped the country only a year ago but the issue has already disappeared from newspaper headlines and political agendas. The same firms that duped minority homebuyers in 2006 charge exorbitant rates to help homeowners refinance today. Aviles has developed money sense curricula for public school math teachers and City University of New York professors.

“There’s no [government] oversight,” Aviles declared. “Some argue that these [homebuyers] knew what they were signing. I beg to differ. Rather than rely on oversight, we need to educate the children.”

To refinance a mortgage is no easy task. Aviles and his team dial banks 20 or 30 times to push a refinance through. Even so, CEE is free.

“200 homes saved and 100 letters of gratitude,” Aviles said.

Toyi is certainly grateful. “It only took three months,” he said. “They sit with you and listen. I’d recommend [CEE] to anybody.”

Updated 5:26 pm, October 21, 2011
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