Letting go of a home to move forward

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Thomas Gillespie spent 20 years as a New York City sanitation worker, saving as much of his salary as he could to finally place a down payment on a home in St. Albans, Queens in 1994. Buying property was a decision to he made to secure his family’s future.

Years later, retired and living on only his pension and social security, Gillespie refinanced his home twice to keep up with the cost of living and to raise funds to help his son move to Georgia. At first his monthly payment was $1,500, but his mortgage was repeatedly bought and sold by different financial institutions. Interest rates fluctuated, and his monthly payment rose to $2,800 — then soared to $3,300.

That was it for Gillespie.

He had done everything he could to build a strong financial foundation for his future. But, the 71-year-old, who loves watching old Westerns and is active on a local bowling league says, “I simply couldn’t afford the monthly payment anymore.”

His home then fell into foreclosure and he sought assistance. “I had some words with the bank,” he says.

Represented by an attorney from JASA, a partner of the Center for NYC Neighborhoods that has a mission of serving older adults throughout the five boroughs, Gillespie says court dates were routinely postponed because the bank’s legal team often was unprepared or didn’t show up, forcing the judge to adjourn for weeks, sometimes months.

A real estate broker specializing in heading off foreclosures was brought in to help organize a short sale of his property.

The Center was also called in to help negotiate debt cancellations through its Housing Mobility Program, which works closely with mortgage lenders to ensure homeowners who can no longer afford their homes get assistance with relocation. Since 2013, with support from the Mizuho USA Foundation, the program has helped more than 300 homeowners by combining one-on-one housing counseling, assistance in securing alternative housing, financial advice, and relocation grants. Staff work closely with mortgage lenders to ensure that homeowners who are no longer able to retain their homes are released of further financial obligations.

Gillespie received a $1,500 relocation grant through the Center that helped bring current a $3,200 Con Edison bill and an additional $3,000 assistance to move in with his son, who rents a two-bedroom house in Queens Village.

“Frustrated” and “worn out” are some terms Gillespie uses to describe the drawn out legal proceedings he endured. And, he still has $200 deducted from his check every month to pay off the collection agency that took over the Con Edison debt.

But Gillespie says he feels a great sense of relief after his exhausting legal battle and the sale of his home. “It’s like I’m two inches taller because I got the monkey off my back,” he says.

Read more about The Center for NYC Neighborhoods work, as well as more stories like Linda Gold’s on the Center’s Annual Report.

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