By Cristian Salazar

HOT 97 takes to the streets of Jamaica, Queens, to talk to homeowners about scams

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Shani Kulture interviews a homeowner

It can be difficult to spot homeowner scams, but even a small dose of information can help New Yorkers avoid them.

Earlier this summer, Shani Kulture, radio personality and producer of HOT 97’s “Ebro in the Morning”, and Allison Antwi, program manager at the Center, took to the streets of Jamaica, Queens to talk to homeowners about foreclosure scams.

The location was no accident. In Southeast Queens, there has been no end to the foreclosure crisis even as it has eased throughout most of the city. While the number of foreclosure filings decreased 25% citywide between 2013 and 2015, they only went down 9% in ZIP code 11434, which encompasses Jamaica, St. Albans and Hollis, according to PropertyShark. In 2015, that ZIP code led the city in foreclosure filings with 382.

At the same time, struggling homeowners have become the targets of scammers looking to make quick cash off people who are down on their luck.

In an effort to raise awareness of these homeowner scams, Shani talked to New Yorkers to find out if they could identify when they were being scammed, and Allison, explained how homeowners can protect themselves from scams. Homeowners were encouraged to call the New York Attorney General’s hotline at 1-855-HOME-456 or visit AGScamhelp.com to get connected to free, high-quality help.

Want to know what homeowners told Shani? Head over to www.hot97.com/dontgetscammed to see the video.

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Goldman Sachs’ $5 billion settlement to expand help to NY homeowners

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New York homeowners will be able to tap into expanded financial assistance after Goldman Sachs agreed to a $5 billion settlement over its past lending practices leading up to the Great Recession with a mortgage working group led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

Hundreds of millions of dollars in settlement funds will be used to help struggling homeowners, particularly through the State’s Mortgage Assistance Program (NYS-MAP), Schneiderman’s office said.

“These dollars will immediately go to work funding proven programs and services to help New Yorkers keep their homes and rebuild their communities,” the state attorney general said in a statement. “We’ve witnessed the incredible impact these programs and services can have in helping communities recover from the financial crisis.”

“We are pleased to put these legacy matters behind us,” Michael DuVally, a Goldman Sachs spokesman told HousingWire. “Since the financial crisis, we have taken significant steps to strengthen our culture, reinforce our commitment to our clients, and ensure our governance processes are robust.”

Under the settlement, $480 million will go toward families and communities in New York State, specifically for mortgage assistance, principal forgiveness, land banks and land trusts, and the creation and preservation of affordable rental housing.

Those funds will also “facilitate a significant expansion” of the NYS-MAP program that has helped hundreds of New Yorkers so far to restructure their debts and keep their homes, Schneiderman’s office said. Since December 2014, NYS-MAP has helped 668 borrowers to avoid foreclosure. Homeowners apply through a partner organization in the Attorney General’s Homeowner Protection Program. The Center currently administers the program on behalf of the Attorney General’s Office. According to the settlement documents, Goldman Sachs agreed to allocate funds for debt restructuring “consistent with the terms and conditions” of NYS-MAP.

The Attorney General’s Office estimates that several thousand more homeowners could avoid foreclosure with the expansion of NYS-MAP due to the Goldman Sachs settlement.

Schneiderman’s office provided this breakdown of the relief under the settlement: $220 million for debt restructuring; $30 million for land banks and land trusts; $30 million for code enforcement; $150 million for first-lien principal reduction; and $50 million for the creation and preservation of affordable housing.

The settlement was negotiated by the Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Working Group, which previously reached agreements with J.P. Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Citibank and Morgan Stanley.

To learn more about NYS-MAP, homeowners can reach the Center by dialing 311 in New York City and asking for the Center for NYC Neighborhoods or by dialing 855-HOME-456.

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Senior homeowners face challenges to ‘aging in place’ in NYC

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Senior walking

Keeping seniors in their homes is one of the next big challenges for housing advocates.

Seniors are among the fastest growing populations in New York, and many are homeowners. But they face unique challenges: their housing stock is aging, requiring costly repairs, and they may need retrofits to allow them to “age in place,” such as no-step showers and wheelchair-accessible entrances. A further challenge for senior homeowners is that they often rely on fixed incomes to get by. In this context, affordable housing is a critical need for those who who want to retire in the communities where they’ve lived for years or decades.

The number of seniors in New York City is expected to grow from 1.2 million to 1.8 million over the next 15 years. In response, the Center, along with five community-based partner organizations, is piloting a program to coordinate services to help senior homeowners. Our goal is to raise awareness, build partnerships and minimize service gaps, while focusing on isolated seniors and linking them to resources before they face a crisis.

This is only the start of a long-term effort to address the needs of senior homeowners that must also include legal services for bankruptcy, deed theft prevention and estate planning, as well as financial counseling and repairs.

Fellow housing advocates are also working at the state level to address seniors’ needs.

Enterprise Community Partners, for instance, is calling for the State to allocate funding in this year’s budget for a new Senior Affordable Housing Program that would invest $50 million over five years on new senior housing; $4.5 million for rental assistance for low-income families in private housing; and $10 million for coordinators to help seniors age in the homes of their choice.

Judi Kende, vice president and New York market leader at Enterprise, wrote in the Albany Times-Union earlier this month that even as housing costs have increased, social security payments (often the only source of income for low-income seniors) have not kept pace.

“These statistics are more than numbers; they are our parents, our grandparents, our neighbors,” Kende wrote.

Image credit: Flickr / Chris Goldberg

 

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Tax lien sale numbers drop but thousands of homes remain at risk

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The City has published its 60-day lien sale list for 2016, and the good news is that the numbers keep falling. This was an expected outcome, given that many homeowners will likely enter into a payment plan or have their properties taken off the list by the City before this year’s sale on May 12. However, there are thousands of properties still facing liens.

Related: How to protect your home from the tax lien sale | Spring is tax lien season in NYC, when unpaid debts blossom into burden for homeowners

Over 3,000 buildings were removed between the publication of the 90- and 60-day lists; over 1,600 were one-to-four family homes, the ones that the Center works to protect. The largest declines were in the 8th Council District, represented by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito; the 48th district represented by Chaim M. Deutsch; and the 33rd district represented by Stephen Levin.

Check out the updated tracker below to see how the numbers have changed.

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Don’t miss out on this essential tax break for homeowners

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Many middle-class homeowners in New York City miss out on an annual property tax break of about $300, and time is running out to apply this year.

The New York State School Tax Relief Program (STAR) exemption gives homeowners a tax break of about $300 per year, and it’s helped thousands of New Yorkers keep homeownership within reach. In 2011, eligibility for the tax break was narrowed to people with incomes of less than $500,000.

STAR is something that middle-class homeowners should know about: It’s easy to apply for, and there’s even an “enhanced” STAR program that comes with an approximately $600 tax break. The deadline to apply for either the basic or enhanced STAR is March 15, 2016 — so hurry up.

Here’s more information from the New York City Department of Finance on how to apply.

Need more help? Give us a call at 646-786-0888.

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Spring is tax lien season in NYC, when unpaid debts blossom into burden for homeowners

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canarsie home

Thousands of homeowners in the five boroughs may be surprised to know their outstanding debts to the City will soon be sold to private investors. The City’s annual tax lien sale on May 12, 2016, can be lucrative for both the government and investors — but it can also be devastating for many homeowners.

Purchasers of tax liens can tack on fees and levy daily compounding interest rates of up to 9% for properties worth less than $250,000 or up to 18% for more expensive properties. For the City, the sale is a quick way to raise cash.

Yet for homeowners, initial debts as small as $1,000 — from unpaid property taxes or water charges, or emergency repairs — can blossom into much more burdensome amounts that can spiral out of control. If a homeowner is unable to pay, the purchaser of the lien can even foreclose and sell off the property at auction.

taxliencostbreakdown

In 2014, 2,729 tax liens were sold for one-to-three family homes, with an average debt owed of $12,000. But an analysis of tax lien payoff statements submitted to us by Network Partners over several years showed the average amount owed to private investors after added fees and interest was $27,365 — more than double the cost of the initial tax liens in some cases.

The burden is clear for homeowners, as the case of Augustine McDowell of the Bronx demonstrates: After being laid off from his job in 2010, he tried to get by with the rent from his tenants but they too became delinquent on their payments and Mr. McDowell fell behind on water charges. That initial debt of $27,000 was sold off, and by Christmas Eve 2015 it had increased to over $42,000; only an emergency loan from the New York State Mortgage Assistance Program, funded by the New York Attorney General’s Office and administered by the Center, kept him from losing his home to foreclosure.

Related: How to protect your home from the tax lien sale

 

As McDowell’s case demonstrates, it’s often the unemployed, elderly, or other people at risk financially who ultimately take the biggest hit in the city’s tax lien sale.

Officials with the Department of Environmental Protection testified to the City Council in 2015 that its sale of water and sewer liens generates $100 million in revenue that is essential to supporting its operations. An official with the Department of Finance said that tax lien sales allow the agency to collect unpaid property taxes and charges, and “ensures fairness and equity among property owners.” The agency said it had collected $1.3 billion from tax lien sales since 1996.

The Center, like many members of the Coalition for Affordable Homes, has proposed that so-called tax class one properties (one-to-three unit buildings) be exempted from the lien sale. In 2014, tax class one properties represented $34 million in debts out of a total $115 million. Given the high repayment rate (more than 60% of property owners with liens sold between 2009 and 2011 repaid their debts, according to the NYC Independent Budget Office), many advocates believe that keeping these debts in City payment plans, rather than handing them over to private investors, would keep vulnerable residents like seniors from serious financial turmoil or homelessness.

The tracker below shows where the properties on the 2016 tax lien sale list are located.

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The above 60-day list will be whittled down and republished at the 30-day mark before the sale. Many property owners will be able to remove themselves from the lien sale by paying their debt in full, entering into a payment plan with the City, or applying for an exemption from the lien sale.

But that will still leave thousands of homeowners on the list facing debts they may quite possibly never be able to repay once high interest and fees accrue, which could even put them at risk of foreclosure.

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What we’re reading about homeowners and housing

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Homes in Brooklyn

Here’s a look at the best stories on homeownership and housing from the past week that got our attention. Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments section.

On Monday, reporter Kirk Semple of The New York Times took a look at overcrowding in the city and found that it had gotten exponentially worse:

According to the latest Census Bureau data, about 9 percent of all households — or nearly 280,000 units — in New York City have more than one person per room, a common government measure of crowding. A decade ago, the rate was 8 percent. The change represents nearly a 13 percent increase. By comparison, the national crowding rate is 3.4 percent.

The crowding problem in New York worsens considerably in specific neighborhoods, particularly those with large working-class and immigrant populations where it is not unusual for two families to cram into apartments intended for one, and laborers to sleep two, three or more to a room.

On the same day, Sally Goldenberg of Politico New York reported on the “senior housing crisis” with powerful anecdotes to uncover a brewing crisis for those people who find themselves challenged by aging, mobility and life on fixed incomes:

A recent study by the non-profit advocacy group LiveOn NY found 101,936 people age 62 and older are waiting an average of seven years for slots in 119 buildings that provide rent-regulated apartments across the city.

The researchers for the study, titled “Through the Roof—Waiting Lists for Senior Housing,” only received responses from 43 percent of the 276 buildings in the federally-subsidized housing program it surveyed, leaving the organization to project that wait lists for low-income senior apartments likely exceed 200,000 people in the city.

The population of elderly people in the five boroughs is big and growing, and the shortage of federal funding to cover the cost of building homes for them is stark.

Over at CityLab, Ellie Anzilotti took a deep dive last weekend into the history of affordable housing in New York:

Affordable housing in New York is inseparable from its long and complicated history. “It’s a layered, sedimentary system,” says Nicholas Dagen Bloom, a social science professor at New York Institute of Technology. Developments from each decade dating back to the turn of the 20th century exist now alongside each other, governed and financed through myriad means. When it comes to affordable housing, there is no one story to tell.

On Tuesday, Nathan Vardi at Forbes gave us a portrait of John Grayken of Lone Star Funds, one of the most divisive figures in “distressed investing”:

Since the Great Recession Grayken has made a specialty of buying up distressed and delinquent home mortgages from government agencies and banks worldwide. He’s also picked up a major payday lender, a Spanish home builder and an Irish hotel chain. Regulators hassle him, and the homeowners whose mortgages he owns or services despise his tactics. In fact, he has become accustomed to taking shots from detractors and has been the subject of protests from New York to Berlin to Seoul. Last year New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman reportedly opened an investigation into Grayken’s heavy-handed mortgage-servicing tactics, including aggressive foreclosures, which have unleashed widespread outcries from homeowners, housing advocates and trade unions.

There are real questions about the human costs of Lone Star Funds’ business practices,’ says Elliott Mallen, a research analyst for Unite Here, a union representing 270,000 hotel and industrial workers.

Finally, The Atlantic’s Gillian White interviewed Matthew Desmond, author of the new book “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,” on how removing people from their homes can exacerbate cycles of poverty:

 Desmond: The face of the eviction epidemic is moms and kids, especially poor moms from predominantly Latino and African American neighborhoods. We found that about one in five African American women renters report being evicted at some point in their lives. The equivalent is about one in 15 for white women renters. So there’s an enormous discrepancy.

Image Credit: Flickr / Nick Normal

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45 members of Congress call for changes to sales of troubled mortgages to banks

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Forty-five members of Congress — including several U.S. Representatives for New York — have signed on to a letter calling for changes to how bulk sales of distressed properties are sold by federal housing agencies, including disqualifying “bad actors” and making the programs more transparent.

The letter, sent on Tuesday and addressed to the heads of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Federal Housing Finance Agency, calls into question how the sales of troubled mortgages have been handled and the impact those sales have had on neighborhoods and communities. U.S. Reps. Hakeem Jeffries, Carolyn Maloney and Yvette Clarke were among the signatories from New York.

“We are concerned that this approach represents a huge missed opportunity to prioritize neighborhood stabilization, help alleviate the affordable housing crisis in communities across the country, and to work with organizations that have a track record of preserving homeownership,” the letter reads.

However, the letter praises the move by the FHA to do non-profit-only auctions as a “step in the right direction.”

The letter details recommendations for redesigning how troubled mortgages are packaged and sold.

You can read the full Congressional Letter to Watt and Castro.

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Expand NYC’s affordable housing by helping would-be homeowners: Op-ed

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Homes in NYC

As the city grapples with how to expand affordable housing for New Yorkers, supporting homeownership is critical to ensuring New Yorkers can live near their jobs and share in the opportunities of the economy.

In an op-ed published in City Limits on Monday, Council Member Mark Treyger, Habit for Humanity New York City CEO Karen Haycox, and the Center’s own executive director, Christie Peale advocate for expanding and enhancing down payment assistance for would-be homeowners.

“Expanding and enhancing down-payment assistance is not a silver bullet,” they write, “but would go a long way toward addressing the displacement of our city’s working class and gentrification that excludes longtime residents from sharing in the economic growth of their neighborhoods.”

As we’ve previously written, down payments are often the biggest obstacle to homeownership. And current programs for helping low- and moderate-income New Yorkers seeking to become homeowners and to build wealth simply don’t go far enough in today’s real estate market.

For instance, the city provides financial assistance of up to $15,000 for down payments through the HomeFirst program, which sets eligibility at 80% of area median income or about $62,000 for a family of three. Taking one example, the median cost of a single family home in the Bronx in 2015 was $360,000, making the recommended 20% down payment a seemingly insurmountable $72,000.

The authors of the City Limits op-ed make it clear: HomeFirst should be expanded and other tools should also be considered — including larger loans to home seekers that must be paid back over the long term so that other families can benefit from the funds. San Francisco, a city facing an equally urgent housing crisis of its own, offers down payment assistance loans of up to $200,000.

“This is not a proposal for a hand out, but rather a hand up,” the three op-ed authors write. “This is not a plan for millionaires, but rather would help those who are the very lifeblood of our city: our nurses, teachers, and transit workers, police and firemen.”

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This map shows black homeowners in NYC are still feeling the recession

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Even as the real estate market in New York City has come roaring back to life since the Great Recession, black homeowners in particular are facing a crushing reality: many often owe more on their mortgages than their property is worth.

The map below, based on recently released U.S. Census data and 2015 mortgage data collected by Zillow, shows majority black homeowner neighborhoods in eastern Queens, eastern Bronx, and the north shore of Staten Island, where residents have been saddled with mortgage debt as their home values plummeted. It’s a sad reality, especially since home values in most neighborhoods in New York City now surpass those from their pre-bust peak.

The implications of this are huge: Homeowners whose mortgages are “underwater,” as housing experts refer to it, can’t take equity out of their homes, are unable to build wealth and are more likely to default and face challenges if they want to move — for instance, for a new job that’s in another city.

All of this is linked to a national trend highlighted in research published in October 2015 that found black families who bought homes since 2000 had seen their net worth decrease as a result of their inability to generate wealth from their equity. A press release about the study explains:

The main factor in whether white buyers made money on their home was when they bought it. But timing had nothing to do with it for black buyers, the researchers found. Instead, the driver was the neighborhood they bought into – and often those areas were predominantly black, with lower housing prices, lower appreciation and declining rates of homeownership. For black buyers, their education and marital status were also key predictors of how the purchase would affect their assets though neither influenced the return on investment of white buyers.

Leo Goldberg, senior policy associate, contributed analysis and research to this post. Map produced by Research Analyst Chris Cardinal.

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