By Center for NYC Neighborhoods

Advocates call on Congress to support affordable flood insurance

by Center for NYC Neighborhoods on 0 Comments

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If you live in an area at risk of flooding, you are likely familiar with the National Flood Insurance Program, the federal program that provides the vast majority of flood insurance in the U.S. This year, the NFIP is up for renewal, which means that Congress will need to pass a law to sustain it.

As in previous years, Congress will also seek to make reforms to how the program operates. As we’ve seen in previous renewals, these changes can result in dramatic rate increases for homeowners in the New York City area with reforms such as mandatory surcharges, and the phasing out of subsidized flood insurance rates for older homes. To learn more about flood insurance, go to FloodHelpNY.org or read our report “Rising Tides, Rising Costs.”

The following letter has been signed by local advocates and was sent this week to the offices of New York’s congressional delegation, calling on members to support reforms that will maintain affordability for homeowners.

Dear Representative,

As organizations that work directly with homeowners who live in flood-prone areas in New York and New Jersey, we thank the leadership and members of the Financial Services Committee for proposing a package of bills reauthorizing the National Flood Insurance Program.

While we support several provisions of the legislation, we are writing to express our concern with several proposals that will negatively affect flood insurance affordability for working- and middle-class families and their communities.

Specifically, we are opposed to the following provisions:

The elimination of grandfathering: The Program Integrity Improvement Act would eliminate grandfathering for properties that have been remapped into higher risk flood zones beginning in 2021. This would cause severe hardship for homeowners who built their structures according to the rules in place at the time, and would result in rapid premium increases for many families in flood-prone neighborhoods.

Increasing annual rate increases from five to eight percent: The National Flood Insurance Program Policyholder Protection and Information Act would require eight percent annual rate increases for pre-FIRM homeowners paying subsidized rates. In New York City, the vast majority of homes (approximately 80 percent) in the Special Flood Hazard Area are pre-FIRM. Many of these homeowners are seniors and low- and moderate-income families who will struggle to afford such steep rate increases. Instead, the current schedule for rate increases set by the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act should be maintained.

Ban on NFIP policies for new structures: The Program Integrity Improvement Act would prohibit the NFIP from offering coverage to any new structures in the Special Flood Hazard Area beginning in 2021. We strongly support efforts to ensure that new construction is resilient and meets the highest floodplain management standards. However, a blanket prohibition would be overly punitive and harm communities that seek to responsibly meet their housing and community development needs.

Ban on NFIP policies for properties with high replacement costs: The Program Integrity Improvement Act also prohibits the NFIP from offering coverage to any one-to-four family homes with a replacement cost of $1 million or more. A million dollar replacement cost may sound like a luxury home, but in high-cost markets and particularly for 2-4 family buildings, this provision will cause many lower income owner-residents to lose important coverage.

Increase in NFIP surcharges: The Program Integrity Improvement Act would also nearly double surcharges to homeowners with NFIP policies, from $25 to $40 annually. While the surcharge amount is relatively small compared to the annual premiums paid by homeowners each year, these increased costs add up, especially for seniors on a fixed income or low- and moderate-income families.

Sanctioning communities with flood losses: The Flood Risk Mitigation Act would require communities with more than five severe repetitive loss properties or 50 repetitive loss properties to produce and implement mitigation plans, and allows for sanctions for communities that fail to implement these plans, including removal from the National Flood Insurance Program. While we strongly support flood mitigation efforts, this legislation would not provide any resources for communities to invest in such mitigation efforts. Additionally, this measure disproportionately affects larger communities, which are numerically more likely to reach the prescribed thresholds. A fairer measure would take into account a percentage of properties rather than a set number.

Tying premium rates to replacement cost value: The National Flood Insurance Program Policyholder Protection and Information Act would require FEMA to factor replacement costs into the premium charged on a residential policy. This provision could increase the already high cost burden of flood insurance for lower income homeowners in urban markets where construction costs are higher.

We thank you for your dedication to our flood-prone communities, and welcome the opportunity to discuss the NFIP and NFIP renewal legislation in greater detail. Please contact Caroline Nagy of the Center for NYC Neighborhoods at caroline.nagy@cnycn.org or 646-237-5921 with any questions or concerns.

Sincerely,

Adopt A House, Long Island
Brooklyn Long Term Recovery Group
Center for NYC Neighborhoods
The Elevated Studio
Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey
Fifth Avenue Committee
Gowanus Canal Conservancy
National Disaster Interfaiths Network
Neighbors Helping Neighbors
New Jersey Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster
New York Disaster Interfaith Services
New York Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster
New York Legal Assistance Group
NHS of Brooklyn
Resilient Red Hook
South Shore Recovery Coalition

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New York foreclosure data explained

by Center for NYC Neighborhoods on 0 Comments

Real estate data companies are releasing regular reports on the housing market in New York City, sometimes with eye-popping statistics about sudden spikes in foreclosures and high rates of re-default. These reports are great hooks for news stories, and give the media a chance to highlight working- and middle-class families who are still struggling years after the 2008 financial crisis.

But reporters and researchers should view these reports with a heavy dose of skepticism and with a full understanding of how foreclosure works in New York State.

That’s because the reports frequently mix-and-match terms and use data without fully taking into account the complex foreclosure process in New York State. Many of these foreclosure spikes can be explained by the regular variation in filings from month-to-month or duplicate filings, while re-defaults are nearly impossible to track because of state laws mandating that foreclosure lawsuits be refiled at regular intervals.

In New York State, foreclosure has evolved into a system where homeowners in jeopardy have opportunities to get help and to stay in their homes. It’s also a judicial foreclosure state, which means lenders can’t simply seize a home because a homeowner is behind on payments. Instead, they have to file a lawsuit in court. These lawsuits can be lengthy, and while many homeowners negotiate modifications with lenders, many other homeowners exit the system by selling their home under pressure. This makes it difficult to estimate exactly how many people are in the foreclosure process at any given time.

So what can we track? Foreclosure data is not an easily measurable representation of money and property changing hands, as in property sales, but records of specific stages in a complex lawsuit that has a number of very different outcomes. There are four places in this process where some data is available:

• Pre-Foreclosure Notice: Thanks to the 2009 New York State Foreclosure Law, mortgage servicers are required to notify both the State and the borrower 90 days before legal action is taken against the homeowner. This information is not public so as to protect homeowners. The intent of this law is to connect homeowners to free, notforprofit resources before they get farther behind on their mortgage payments.

• Lis Pendens: This is the beginning of a foreclosure lawsuit. Lis Pendens records are tracked through the court system and by a variety of real estate companies. The Center tracks these as an indicator of how many homeowners have entered the foreclosure process and need legal assistance. The number of lawsuits vary from month to month, but tend to stay pretty stable by quarter. Lis Pendens are lawsuits and therefore publically available records. This can create problems for at-risk homeowners who may be vulnerable to scammers and home flippers. The Center makes sure that all data we publish is aggregated or protected to ensure that we don’t leave our clients or potential clients vulnerable.

• Auctions: Mortgage lenders cannot seize your house in New York State, but instead are required to auction your house to the highest bidder. Once a homeowner reaches a certain point in the foreclosure lawsuit, an auction can be scheduled. These auctions are a matter of public record (but don’t worry, a homeowner still has opportunities to resolve the lawsuit and keep their home!)

• Auction Results: For the few homeowners that complete the foreclosure lawsuit process in New York State, their homes will be auctioned off. These auctions can be attended by any member of the public, and the specifics of these auctions are recorded by real estate data companies. The number of auctions can change a lot in any given month based on how cases proceed through the court system.

Overall, we know how many people are at each of these four stages at any given time.

These stages are at the beginning and at the end of the foreclosure process. We can capture how many people are at risk and how many people have slipped through the cracks and are losing their homes. Unfortunately, in between there is a large number of homeowners who still need help. It can be extremely challenging to find out how many there are and where they live.

For example, data on foreclosure lawsuits will often contain multiple filings involving the same property — both in the same year and over a longer period of time. Some of these can be repeat filings, multiple mortgages, or servicer errors, but some are re-defaults, or cases when a homeowner resolves the foreclosure but falls back into foreclosure over time. However, Lis Pendens lawsuits must be re-filed with the courts every three years. Some servicers will be very conscientious about re-filing a Lis Pendens, while others will only refile when the lawsuit is thrown out of court. The differences between these repeat filings are extremely difficult to tease out based on the data available in these lawsuits.

For the media and real estate companies with data divisions, differentiating between foreclosures and auctions can make a big difference. Auctions aren’t really foreclosures, but the end of a long lawsuit and represent cases where homeowners were unable to resolve their payment issues. Use the term “foreclosure” for people entering the foreclosure process. It helps illuminate a huge problem for New York homeowners at a time when it’s not too late to get help.

Ultimately, being a bit more skeptical about bombshell reports on foreclosures can lead to better news stories and a better understanding of what working families are facing as they struggle to hold onto their homes.

The map above shows the number of lis pendens filed in the city in 2016.

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Letting go of a home to move forward

by Center for NYC Neighborhoods on 0 Comments

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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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Climate change and homeownership: Preparing for the future

by Center for NYC Neighborhoods on 0 Comments

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Following lessons learned from its work helping homeowners recover from Hurricane Sandy, the Center has pivoted to help coastal communities become more resilient to the severe storms and increased flooding associated with climate change. In 2015, the Center formed a recovery and resiliency team to focus its efforts.

A major project the team handles is the Home Resiliency Audit, where a qualified engineering firm assesses a home’s strength and resistance to flooding. A major benefit of the program is that homeowners receive an elevation certificate — valued at over $800 — at no cost to them, as well as a customized resiliency plan that can be shared with contractors, insurance agents, and others to help make their home more flood resistant. More information and an application is available at FloodHelpNY.org.

We asked Rachel Eve Stein, Deputy Director of Recovery and Resiliency, three questions about climate change and homeownership. Stein, who is also a an activist in her personal time, previously worked in sustainability. Her experience is expected to inform the future direction of the Center’s work.

Why is climate change important to what we do at the Center, and for your work in particular?

Climate change affects all homeowners. Because of its effects, homeowners have to reconsider their cooling systems, prepare for more power outages, and retrofit their homes to combat flooding. Consequently, climate change affects residents in high risk flood zones the most, and more New Yorkers than ever before live in high-risk flood zones. FloodHelpNY exists to prepare homeowners in flood zones and, in particular, financially vulnerable homeowners, for the inevitable “superstorm.”

How are resiliency and sustainability related? How does this relate to homeowners?

Resiliency deals with the results of climate change. FloodHelpNY services bring to homeowners an awareness of the connection between resiliency and sustainability, and how climate change is adding to their already rising flood risks, and therefore insurance rates. We aim to expand people’s minds when thinking about their home, not just about their own personal well being and preservation of their property, but about how their actions affect our living environment.

Homeowners, unlike renters, have significant control over major choices they make over their living spaces. They can look into weatherization, solar panels, and more efficient appliances to make their homes more sustainable. They can fill in basements, move mechanicals, and install flood vents without having to go through a landlord. Homeowners have to make choices in their homes that affect their everyday, such as converting from incandescent light bulbs to LEDs, using fans instead of air conditioners, and reducing vampire voltage [energy used by appliances even when they are turned off]. All of these choices can help mitigate the effects of climate change on their homes and neighborhoods.

Tell us a little about the audits that some eligible homeowners receive by applying at FloodHelpNY.org. What are they, and what is it like to have your home audited?

The Center, in conjunction with the New York Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery as part of the NY Rising Community Reconstruction Program, provides free audits for homeowners in flood zones.

I’ve been able to go on a few audits and watch the engineers in action. They assemble an incredibly comprehensive profile of the building, inside and out, which can give homeowners new insight on their homes and its structure. Many times, homeowners learn things about their homes that they never knew.

It’s also been really powerful to speak with the homeowners and to hear their stories. They are still feeling the impact of superstorms financially and emotionally. Seeing them so enthusiastic about our services is also a reminder that FloodHelpNY makes their lives easier!

Homeowners who have participated have noted that while their home flooded [during past storms], their neighbor’s home didn’t, and they wanted to know why. We have to inform them that it’s not necessarily an issue of weather, but an issue about home structure and the ground on which the home was built.

If you want an accurate flood insurance quote for a home in a high-risk flood zone, you’ll need an “elevation certificate” — it’s the only way to know how high your rate will go. Not sure how to get one? We may be able to help. The Center for NYC Neighborhoods can arrange for eligible households to get a free home resiliency audit and elevation certificate, saving you hundreds of dollars. To see if you qualify, visit our website: http://www.floodhelpny.org/homeowners

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Victory for homeowners: NY State announces funding to assist homeowners

by Center for NYC Neighborhoods on 0 Comments
[caption id="attachment_7319" align="alignnone" width="3264"]IMG_5484 (1) Advocates from across the NY State came together to lobby at the State Capitol in Albany, asking representatives to #ProtectNYHomes.[/caption]

 

This year’s state budget was completed over the weekend in Albany, and affordable housing advocates have a number of reasons to celebrate. Here’s how affordable homeownership priorities played out in the budget:

  • Foreclosure prevention funding: Homeowner advocates were successful in obtaining $10 million in the budget to fund foreclosure prevention services. Foreclosure prevention funding had been set to expire in September of this year, but thanks to a deal between Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and the State Legislature, we now have sufficient funding to finish out this State Fiscal Year, which ends next March.
    This funding was a major priority for the Center, and we are thrilled to be able to continue state-funded foreclosure prevention services for the upcoming year, while we continue to  work with Governor Cuomo and the Legislature to secure a plan for permanent funding.
  • Reverse mortgages: The budget bills also made a legislative fix that will help senior homeowners at risk of reverse mortgage foreclosures. The new law will require mandatory settlement conferences before allowing lenders to move ahead with reverse mortgage foreclosures. This is great news, as it will give seniors at risk of foreclosure a chance to get connected with foreclosure prevention services and reach a solution to keep their homes.
  • Affordable housing plan: The state budget includes $2.5 billion for a five-year housing plan that will have a major impact on affordable housing and homeownership statewide. The plan includes $41.5 million for affordable homeownership programs in New York state, among other major investments in affordable housing, including supportive housing, senior housing, and NYCHA repairs.

We commend Governor Cuomo, the State Legislature, and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for reaching a budget deal that will protect homeowners at risk of foreclosure while creating new affordable homeownership opportunities for New York’s working families. We also congratulate our many partners in advocacy, specifically our fellow members of the Protect NY Homes Coalition and the organizations that campaigned for the $2.5 billion in housing plan funds.

Click here to learn our ongoing campaign and recent trip to Albany to secure foreclosure prevention funding.

If you or someone you know needs assistance, please call our Homeowner Hub at 1-855-HOME-456.

 

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7 reasons why we love community land trusts

by Center for NYC Neighborhoods on 0 Comments

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From New York to California, communities struggling with a shortage of affordable housing are giving renewed attention to a model of housing preservation that ensures home prices and rents stay within reach for low-income households.

In the community land trust model, a nonprofit organization retains ownership of land and sells or rents housing to lower-income households. To make certain would-be homeowners and renters benefit from the arrangement for years to come, the trust caps the resale prices and rents of the housing, maintaining affordability for the next homeowner.

Today there are around 250 CLTs across the U.S. and several organizations, including the Center for NYC Neighborhoods, are examining the model for use in New York City, where the affordability crisis is demanding innovative solutions.

There are a lot of reasons to love CLTs — here are seven of them.

1. CLTs help neighborhoods resist gentrification

When CLTs place land in control of communities, they are also taking land and housing out of the speculative market. That means that CLT housing remains affordable even when gentrification pressures mount, which protects families from displacement.

2. CLTs give more families the opportunity to own homes and co-ops

Fewer and fewer working families can afford to buy a home in the five boroughs. CLTs create opportunities for families to buy homes at affordable prices. When they decide to sell, they will keep a portion of the appreciation but will sell at a below-market price, making the home affordable to another family of limited means. Keeping the home affordable, from family to family, will benefit generations of New Yorkers rather than one lucky household.

3. CLTs give community members a meaningful voice in development decisions

Community members and CLT renters and homeowners are always involved in the governance of community land trusts. This helps direct the CLT toward development that is in the interest of its community and that reflects the values of its residents.

4. CLTs enable lower-income households to build wealth

A family that owns a house or co-op on a CLT benefits by steadily gaining equity in their home. The family can then use this equity as a downpayment on a market-priced home. In this way, CLTs act as a stepping stone for low-income families to go from renting to building wealth — which they can pass on to their children.

5. CLTs prevent foreclosures

CLTs take an active role in preventing foreclosure. They work with homeowners to make mortgages affordable and sustainable, and provide financial literacy education. They can also assist with major home repairs and intervene early when a homeowner is at risk of falling behind on his or her mortgage. As a result, CLTs typically experience low foreclosure rates. At the height of the foreclosure crisis, homeowners living in CLTs were 10 times less likely to be in foreclosure than homeowners in the conventional market.

6. CLTs make taxpayer dollars for affordable housing go further

Every affordable apartment or house is funded with significant government investment and when affordability restrictions expire — often in as little as 15 years time — the owner of the apartment gets to cash out. In the CLT model, tax dollars that are applied to the initial home construction are preserved for subsequent homeowners. This means public investments have a longer and larger impact in a CLT.

7. CLTs promote civic engagement

There are many examples throughout the country that indicate that residents who took leadership roles in their CLTs also became leaders in their local communities. Engagement on CLTs boards, committees, and sponsored activities can translate into residents acting to spearhead positive change within their communities.

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New York foreclosure prevention network calls for vital State funding

by Center for NYC Neighborhoods on 4 Comments

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These are uncertain days for advocates working on the front lines to prevent homeowners from losing their homes to foreclosure.

While foreclosure filings in New York State remain high since the housing bubble burst — with nearly 34,000 new filings in 2016 and 72,000 pending cases in court — funding for the state’s only Foreclosure Prevention Services Network will end Sept. 30, 2017. At the same time the network is losing its funding, federal funding for programs to tackle the mortgage crisis have come to an end.

That’s why a coalition of groups including the Center for NYC Neighborhoods has come together to call on Gov. Cuomo and the State Legislature to commit $30 million in the New York budget to preserve these vital services through 2019.

On Feb. 13, 2017, nearly a dozen staff members from the Center traveled to the State Capitol in Albany with the Network to meet with individual state representatives. They spoke to politicians about the urgency of foreclosure prevention assistance, shared success stories of families whose homes have been saved, and discussed the importance of enforcing laws that penalize banks for failing to maintain vacant homes.

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The Network presented a photo display in the lobby of the State Legislature’s building with facts on foreclosure and stories of homeowners whose homes were saved; “heart keys” were also distributed to each representative and the governor, reflecting the number of residential foreclosure filings and delinquency notices sent to homeowners in their districts. Representatives who support the funding campaign held a press conference on the state of the foreclosure crisis across the state, and invited two homeowners to share their stories and discuss the importance of non-profit legal services and housing counseling.

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One homeowner who spoke at the news conference, a 71-year-old elderly woman, had already sold her car to be able to afford her mortgage payments. Another homeowner was only 10 days away from losing his home. Yet another was a Vietnam War veteran. It’s easy to see these individuals as just a number, representing one of the 33,500 pre-foreclosed homes in NYC alone, but they are also people — people who just want to stay in their homes.

“At a time of sky-high foreclosure filings, record homelessness, and zombie properties running rampant, continued funding for legal foreclosure prevention services and consumer protections is vital,” said Sen. Jeff Klein, Democrat who represents the 34th Senate District in the Bronx/Westchester, in a news release.

“Today, New York homeowners in need of help with their mortgage can access free, high-quality foreclosure prevention services to help them stay in their home,” said Christie Peale, the Center’s Executive Director. “Our network is there for New Yorkers, with offices in every county and New York City borough, but without State funding the network will have to turn away homeowners in need. We must not allow that to happen.”

Since the 2008 housing crisis, the Foreclosure Prevention Services Network has grown into a community of 63 housing counseling and 31 legal service providers. While the network was most recently funded by bank settlements from the mortgage crisis, that source of funding is now come to an end.

State funding would provide critical support to services that help homeowners facing mortgage distress to stay in their homes, whether through modifications or by holding mortgage servicers accountable. It is crucial that these organizations have the capacity and support to continue to provide much-needed services to homeowners across the state.

Are you in need of foreclosure prevention help or do you know someone who is? Contact the Center’s Homeowner Hub at 855-HOME-456 to get connected to free help from housing and legal organizations across New York.

PHOTO 1: The Network presented a photo display with statistics on foreclosure in New York, as well as homeowner stories.

PHOTO 2: NY State Sen. Jesse Hamilton speaks at the press conference, hosted by the Independent Democratic Conference & Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein.

PHOTO 3: Gov. Cuomo’s “heart key,” detailing the residential foreclosure filings and delinquency notices sent to homeowners across the state in 2016.

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Rebuilding a life and home after Hurricane Sandy

by Center for NYC Neighborhoods on 2 Comments

Linda Gold in her home - Rockaway, Queens

Linda Gold’s husband died the night of Hurricane Sandy trying to save their home from the storm. “I had lost my husband and my house was in ruins,” she says. Even while facing unimaginable loss, Gold was about to begin a nightmarish journey to try to rebuild her home and her life.

Gold, with her husband Richard, had saved for a decade to purchase their two-story, two-bedroom home in the Belle Harbor section of Rockaway, Queens in 1979. The house was just one block from the waterfront.

Over their years together in the home, she and her husband had weathered many storms, but Gold decided to stay with a friend in Brooklyn as Hurricane Sandy advanced toward the city in October 2012. Her husband made the fateful decision to stay behind to secure their house and help others.

While struggling with her grief from the loss of her husband, she was unsure how to cope with the challenge of rebuilding her home. “My husband had always paid the bills, taken care of the insurance, and those type of things,” Gold says.

The reconstruction of Gold’s home was halted mid-way through excavation of her basement due to a complication with a permit. Officials told her she might need to forfeit her basement apartment, which she depended on for income — without it, she would have surely be unable to pay her mortgage and possibly fall into foreclosure.

She turned to NYLAG, a partner in the Center for NYC Neighborhoods’ legal counseling program for homeowners affected by Sandy. The Center, in conjunction with the Mayor’s Office of Housing Recovery Operations and partner organizations like NYLAG, has been the lead organization counseling homeowners whose houses were damaged by the storm. These services help homeowners secure construction assistance and overcome tough recovery challenges, including foreclosure, the need for temporary housing, and insurance. Over 3,500 cases have been resolved through the Center’s program for homeowners affected by Hurricane Sandy.

With help from her legal counselor at NYLAG and support from the Center, Gold won her appeal and obtained a special permit to kick-start the reconstruction of her home. “They helped me so much,” Gold says, praising in particular attorney William Friedman, who heads NYLAG’s Storm Response unit.

Gold praises the contractor and crew reworking the electricity in her house, repairing and repainting walls, and rebuilding her basement apartment from which she says she has lost approximately $30,000 in rental income over the years while the rebuild was in limbo.

But the challenges of rebuilding her life have left her undeterred. “I’m hopeful and optimistic, while still waiting to see the end of all this chaos,” she says.

To learn more about whether you’re in the floodplain, your flood risk and about flood insurance rates, go to FloodHelpNY.org

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

PHOTO:  In this photo, Linda Gold looks out her window of her home in the Rockaway, Queens borough of New York.

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Low-income NYC senior and disabled homeowners at risk of losing crucial benefits

by Center for NYC Neighborhoods on 2 Comments

NYC senior homeowners need to reapply for tax exemptions

Tens of thousands of senior and disabled homeowners have less than three months to renew two tax exemptions that can save them hundreds of dollars each year.

The New York City Department of Finance has sent letters to 55,000 homeowners asking them to renew the exemptions by March 15, 2017.

Both the Senior Citizen Homeowner and Disability Homeowner exemptions provide crucial financial help for lower- and fixed-income senior and disabled homeowners who need to stay afloat in a city with rising housing costs. If eligible homeowners miss the deadline, they may be at risk of losing out on financial benefits that can keep them from losing their homes and being able to age in place.

Our research shows that there is a large number of New Yorkers who would be eligible for these tax exemptions but do not know about them or have been unable to access them.

Based on a study of two sample districts, less than half of eligible seniors were receiving the benefit in Brooklyn Community District 5 (including East New York, Cypress Hills, and New Lots); only about two-thirds were in Queens Community District 12 (including Jamaica, Hollis, St. Albans). Eligible households must have a combined income of $37,399 or below.

(Source: 2014 Housing and Vacancy Survey; NYC Dept. of Finance June 2016 property tax bills)

At the Center, we lead a Senior Homeowner Initiative funded by the New York City Council that aims to ensure elderly homeowners can age in place and remain in their homes. Over the next few months, we’ll be coordinating with DOF and our network of legal services and housing counseling agencies to help reach out to senior homeowners and community stakeholders to spread the word about the renewal process and assist applicants with the application.

March 15, 2017 is the deadline to renew AND apply for the first time to receive the tax exemptions.

SCHE Re-application forms are available here and বাঙালি | 中文| français | kreyòl ayisyen | 한국어 | русский | español

DHE Renewal Application form available here and বাঙালি | 中文 | français | kreyòl ayisyen | 한국어 | русский | español

Read FAQs from the Dept. of Finance here.

If you or someone you know needs assistance, please call our Homeowner Hub at 1-855-HOME-456.

(Source for chart: 2014 Housing and Vacancy Survey; NYC Dept. of Finance June 2016 property tax bills)

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The future of foreclosure relief after the end of Obama’s signature mortgage relief effort

by Center for NYC Neighborhoods on 1 Comment

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Housing counselors and advocates worked late into the evening on Dec. 30, 2016, helping homeowners meet the midnight deadline to apply for the Obama administration’s signature foreclosure crisis era mortgage relief program.

Although it is not immediately clear how many homeowners beat the rush, what is clear is that the future of foreclosure assistance for homeowners looks much more fragmented as lenders and regulatory agencies announce new efforts and guidelines for filling the void being left by the end of Making Home Affordable and its Home Affordable Modification Program.

The programs themselves, however beneficial, were far from perfect.

As The Washington Post reported recently, HAMP failed to meet its ambitious stated goal of helping up to 4 million borrowers, falling short by about 2.4 million by the end of 2016. The program was also criticized for its complexity by lenders and by advocates who claimed lenders lost paperwork or mismanaged cases. Many homeowners had to seek the help of housing counselors and legal advocates to get their applications through.

The U.S. Department of Treasury also found that the large mortgage services receiving billions of dollars for participating in the program had flouted its rules by miscalculating homeowners’ income, wrongfully denying applications and more, according to an October 2016 report by the Office of the Special Inspector General of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the $700 billion taxpayer bailout.

Despite the program’s deficiencies, Making Home Affordable played a crucial role in helping to standardize best practices in loss mitigation across the industry. Before 2009 and the creation of these programs, “there was no standard approach among mortgage servicers or investors to assist homeowners who were making payments, but were at risk of becoming delinquent due to a financial hardship,” according to a white paper released in July by the U.S. Department of Treasury and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Some housing counselors have called the period before HAMP and MHA were introduced as the “Wild West” of mortgage modifications.

So what happens now? For much of 2016, lenders and federal regulators were busy charting the future.

In their white paper in July, the U.S. Department of Treasury, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development identified five core principles for any effort to replace the Home Affordable Modification Program: Consumers should be able to easily access options; plans should be affordable; they should be sustainable; all terms should be made transparent; and there should be sufficient oversight and accountability for the process. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also agrees with these principles, highlighting their mortgage servicing rules as a way to keep banks in check.

In December, Fannie and Freddie Mac, taking their cue from that white paper, announced the “Flex Modification,” which would give eligible borrowers a 20% payment reduction, and would borrow from the Obama administration’s program.

The Mortgage Bankers Association, meanwhile, has been backing what it has called the “One Mod,” which would require less documentation and little to no underwriting. This could be a much simpler option for homeowners and lenders. It also offers what the association calls “deep payment relief” through a six-step waterfall proposal.

In spite of industry-wide improvements in mortgage modification standards and new options, in the absence of HAMP, homeowners will likely face uncertainty and confusion about what to do when they need help with their mortgages.

This means that housing counselors and legal advocates will be needed more than ever to help navigate the new options and processes, assess affordability, and work with servicers to get homeowners the financial relief they need to keep their homes.

After all, applying for HAMP when it existed often required the help of a counselor, as Christopher Pinto told the Journal News in a recent story.

“I tried on my own, and it didn’t work,” said the 60-year-old homeowner from White Plains, who got his mortgage payment reduced to $1,100 through the program with the assistance of a local housing organization. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them.”

Are you in need of foreclosure prevention help or do you know someone who is? Contact the Center’s Homeowner Hub at 855-HOME-456 to get connected to free, legal help from housing organizations across New York.

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