Rebuilding a life and home after Hurricane Sandy

by Center for NYC Neighborhoods on 0 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 0 Comments

Network Partner Photos 255

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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This neighborhood is ‘not for sale’: Fighting speculation, displacement in East New York

by Leo Goldberg on 0 Comments

East New York rally against speculation

Dozens of East New York and Cypress Hills residents marched across Eastern Brooklyn on Saturday to tell speculators that their neighborhoods are “not for sale.” Along the way, participants tore down “all cash” for homes signs that have become an unwelcome symbol of the rush of developers and brokers targeting homeowners in and around the communities rezoned by the City Council in April 2016. But while tearing down signs and calling attention to aggressive speculation may highlight the issue, a policy solution to the problem may come in the form of a cease and desist zone.

Last year, East New York led the City in property flipping, a maneuver that allows often unscrupulous brokers and developers to capitalize on the financial vulnerability of low-income homeowners. The signs can have more sinister implications as well: mortgage modification and deed theft scams have also mushroomed in the neighborhood, and too often homeowners turn to the solicitors knocking on their doors or the shady companies putting up signs who don’t have homeowners’ best interests at heart.

Homeowners can access free, legal help by calling the
Center for NYC Neighborhoods at 855-HOME-456.

 

New York City Council Member Rafael Espinal, who was among several elected officials who marched with residents on Saturday, tore down a sign during the march and told the crowd, “We have to give our homeowners and tenants all the resources they need to fight gentrification.”

Public Advocate Letitia James declared, “We’re basically here to defend Cypress Hills from the speculators who are preying on this community.” She called speculators “bad actors” who “target homeowners, especially seniors who are equity rich but cash poor.” City Comptroller Scott Stringer also marched with the group.

State Sen. Martin Malave Dilan joined Espinal and James in calling for a cease and desist zone, which would empower homeowners to stop harassing calls, door knocking and fliers from speculators seeking to purchase their home. In a cease-and-desist zone, homeowners can opt-in to a no-solicitation registry enforced by the New York Department of State.

The rally was organized by an alliance of local groups called the Coalition for Community Advancement.

“They have a door to door process, they sit down with you, they become friendly to you, you invite them into your homes, so the sales that are happening are under the radar … They’re not giving ‘Darma next door’ an opportunity to buy the house next door to her,” said Darma Diaz, a local homeowner and a member of the Coalition, told City Limits.

Photo: Julia Watt-Rosenfeld, Cypress Hills LDC

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What NYC’s tax lien sale means for affordable homeownership

by Center for NYC Neighborhoods on 0 Comments

homes in NYC

We are pleased to join with our fellow members of the Coalition for Affordable Homes in releasing a new report that analyzes the unequal impact of New York City’s tax lien sale on homeowners.

The report, “Compounding Debt: Race, Affordability, and NYC’s Tax Lien Sale,” finds that the City is six times more likely to sell a lien on a home in a majority African American neighborhood than in a majority white neighborhood. Latino homeowners were two times more likely to have a lien sold on their home.

The report also documents how the tax lien sale feeds speculation and displacement.

Each year, thousands of homeowners who fall behind on their tax or water bills get placed on the City’s annual lien sale list. The City sells the outstanding debts to private investors who then turn around and add steep interest and fees. The initial debt can double in as little as a year, and failure to pay can lead to foreclosure.

Fortunately, this year the law authorizing the lien sale is up for renewal, which gives City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio an opportunity to make much-needed reforms to the lien sale and reorient the City’s tax collection policies toward affordable homeownership and housing preservation.

“We meet many older homeowners who are facing foreclosure because they cannot afford to pay the fees and interest that add up after a tax lien is sold,” said Samira Rajan, Executive Director of Grow Brooklyn.

“It is often too late to help our clients prevent the sale of liens by New York City to investors,” said Patricia Kerr, Director of Programs at Neighborhood Housing Services of Jamaica, Inc. “The fact is, when customers come to our offices they are usually in the late stages of their liens being sold by the City.”

Analyzing data between 2009 and 2016, the report found that homeowners who have their liens sold to private investors quickly find themselves saddled with ballooning debts, which can lead to foreclosure. Eastern Brooklyn and Southeast Queens — low-rise, predominantly black and Hispanic areas that contain some of the city’s last affordable neighborhoods — have been acutely affected by the sale.

These same neighborhoods were subject to immense wealth loss during the foreclosure crisis and have recently been targeted by speculators.

You can read the full report.

To see where liens were sold in 2016, go to our tracker.

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Historic Louisiana floods a reminder to homeowners to check insurance coverage

by Caroline Nagy on 0 Comments

Last week’s tragic floods in Louisiana have caused 13 deaths, damaged more than 40,000 homes, and displaced tens of thousands. While initially underreported by the national media, the storm is being called the worst natural disaster since Hurricane Sandy.

Unfortunately, the devastation caused by the flooding will be much harder to recover from for the many homeowners in Louisiana who do not have flood insurance. While it’s unclear how many flooding victims were uninsured, so far just over 9,000 people have filed flood insurance claims. That means many will go without the benefits of flood insurance, and will instead have to rely on disaster assistance, which is much more limited.

For homeowners in the New York City area, especially those who live near the water, news coverage of the Louisiana flooding can bring back painful memories of the extreme, unprecedented loss of life and property damage the region experienced during Hurricane Sandy.

However, it should also serve as very urgent reminder for homeowners: as we reach peak hurricane season, now is the time to buy flood insurance! This is especially important because of climate change, which will cause more extreme weather events and worsen the impacts of rising sea levels.

Here’s what New York City homeowners need to know about flood insurance:

  • Homeowner’s insurance does NOT cover damage caused by flooding. You need a separate flood insurance policy in addition to your homeowner’s insurance policy to protect yourself.
  • Not sure if your property is at risk of flooding? Visit FloodHelpNY.org to learn more about your flood risk and flood zone.
  • If you live in the high-risk flood zone, your mortgage servicer should have already required you to purchase flood insurance. But even if you’re not required to purchase flood insurance, it is still an essential investment that will pay off when flooding hits.
  • If you live in a lower-risk area, it’s still a good idea to buy flood insurance. You might even qualify for very low flood insurance rates, which can cost as little as $146/year.

Make sure you’re protected from the next storm. Visit FloodHelpNY.org for more help on flood insurance.

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Solutions to NYC’s Affordable Homeownership Crisis do Exist

by Caroline Nagy on 0 Comments

Brooklyn homes

A new study from the NYU Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy and Citi confirmed what many New Yorkers already know: homeownership in this city has been increasingly priced out of reach for all but the wealthiest of New Yorkers.

However, there is nothing inevitable about the daunting rise in homeownership costs that we see in the five boroughs today, and we are not powerless to change the status quo. Rather, we can and must adopt policies and practices to safeguard affordable homeownership.

Two of the most promising solutions — community land trusts and an anti-flip tax — may be considered politically ambitious, but they are powerful tools for controlling speculation and distortions in the city’s real estate market that make it inaccessible to most families.

Decreasing opportunities for affordable homeownership in NYC

The Furman report’s findings paint a grim picture for working- and middle-class families seeking to own a home in a city suffering from growing economic inequality. While certain Manhattan neighborhoods have long been prohibitively expensive, today the price squeeze extends to more modest homes in neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs. It affects current homeowners, many of whom are financially overextended, as well as would-be homeowners, who are almost entirely shut out of the market. The report also raises serious questions about the future of New York City as a place where working families can afford to stay and choose to put down roots.

According to the findings of the report, the cost of New York City real estate has dramatically outpaced incomes, with home sale prices rising 200 percent over the last 25 years while real incomes have remained stagnant, decreasing 11 percent when adjusted for inflation. As a result, working- and middle-class families in New York today have been largely squeezed out of opportunities to own: for the 51 percent of New Yorkers earning less than $55,000 a year, only 9 percent of homes on the market are affordable to them.

So who can afford to buy in New York City today? In 2014, the average sales price of a coop, condo, or one-to-three family home was $575,700. According to the study’s authors, this price is affordable only to the top quarter of New Yorkers who make more than $114,000 a year, and that’s assuming they can save up for a 20 percent downpayment.

And for the New Yorkers who already own their home, nearly half are in a precarious financial position, spending 30 percent or more of their income towards mortgage and other housing costs, according to the study’s authors. Further, an alarming one in four homeowners spend 50 percent or more of their income on housing costs.

Click here to continue reading on City Limits.

Photo credit: Flickr / ryan.dowd. Used under Creative Commons license. 

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

by Cristian Salazar on 1 Comment

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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Coalition for Affordable Homes celebrates achievements of 1st year

by Center for NYC Neighborhoods on 0 Comments

IMG_6061

A year ago, more than two dozen organizations proclaimed that New York City’s neighborhoods are the “bedrock of its success” as they set forth an ambitious agenda for protecting affordable homeownership.

The Coalition for Affordable Homes, as it named itself, aimed to leverage the collective strength of 26 organizations to influence policy in order to tackle the rising cost of housing, battle predatory lenders, speculators and investors, and to develop innovative strategies to preserve and expand affordable homeownership. In September 2015, the Coalition released a policy platform that included calling for preventing the displacement of low- and moderate-income homeowners; expanding downpayment assistance; implementing a community land trust; and supporting the Community Restoration Fund to purchase distressed notes.

In the past year, the Coalition has made strides toward achieving its policy goals.

At the end of June, the city became the first municipality in the country to purchase distressed mortgage notes directly from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development through the newly established Community Restoration Program. While the program initially bought 24 mortgages, the city plans to expand it as a new model for tackling foreclosures. Lawmakers at the state level also authorized the creation of a similar fund, but no money has been allocated for it so far.

This past spring, ahead of the city’s annual tax and water lien sale, the Coalition rallied to get homeowners off the list and to reorient the city’s tax enforcement toward affordable housing preservation. One big win was the support of Public Advocate Letitia James, who held a news conference to denounce the water lien sale as too burdensome on working homeowners.

“Every homeowner has a responsibility to pay their bills, but the punishment for late payment should not be selling the debt to private investors, who then charge high fees and force our working families into foreclosure,” James said in a statement at the time. “Rather than imposing additional fines and liens, we must focus on programs that educate homeowners about their responsibilities and their rights, including payment plans”

The Coalition also advocated for fair housing practices across race and class lines. For instance, in May, it organized a homeowner event in southeast Queens called “I Deserve A Fair Mortgage, Too!” that brought together residents and housing advocates to discuss the legacy of redlining, as well as current predatory lending practices.

The Coalition also worked on multiple fronts researching downpayment assistance, deed theft scams and anti-displacement initiatives, such as cease and desist legislation.

But, by far, the biggest accomplishment of the Coalition has been to raise the profile of affordable homeownership in a city that too often overlooks its role in helping communities thrive.

To learn more about the Coalition and its policy platform, go to CoalitionforAffordableHomes.org.

In the above image, a homeowner speaks at a news conference where Public Advocate Letitia James called for changes to to how water lien sales are handled by the city. Credit: Center for NYC Neighborhoods.

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Groundbreaking policies to benefit NYC homeowners at risk of foreclosure

by Caroline Nagy on 0 Comments

East New York street

New York homeowners at risk of foreclosure will benefit from two promising developments announced last week: the groundbreaking purchase of New York City mortgage notes from the Federal Housing Authority and new reforms to the federal government’s Distressed Asset Stabilization Program.

The New York City mortgage purchase initiative is notable because it is the first of its kind in the nation to purchase mortgages directly from the federal government. Known as the Community Restoration Program, it will work to keep families whose mortgages have been purchased in their homes through principal reduction and other methods aimed at lowering monthly payments. The initial pool of 24 properties comprises 41 homes, and the Community Restoration Program is actively seeking to grow the program by finding additional opportunities to acquire notes. The Center is one of the program’s non-profit partners, and will work to connect homeowners to foreclosure prevention services.

If New York City hadn’t stepped in to purchase these mortgages, they would have been sold at auction to the highest bidder through DASP. That program is administered by the FHA as a means of removing so-called “nonperforming” mortgages from its books and putting them up for auction. Loans sold through DASP have almost exclusively been purchased by large investment funds, which, critics argue, often have little interest in working with the families on the other end of the transaction.

These critics found support in a recent New York Times article examining the growing role of private equity firms in the housing market that found that private equity firms “are repeating the mistakes that banks committed throughout the housing crisis,” and that their behavior is enabled by federal government programs like DASP. For instance, the Times analyzed Loan Star Funds, a major purchaser of nonperforming notes, and found that it had acted aggressively in pushing thousands of borrowers toward foreclosure. In a previous analysis, the Times documented cases where Caliber Home Loans, the servicing firm for Lone Star Funds, refused to work with homeowners, failed to provide feasible loan modifications and rushed homes into foreclosure. Caliber is currently under investigation by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for potential violations of national and state servicing rules.

Critics found further support in a study released last week by the Center for American Progress that found that the vast majority of notes sold through the program are located in communities that were hard-hit by the foreclosure crisis, particularly communities of color. The report called for better options for homeowners once their notes are sold and increased transparency of DASP, among other reforms.

Following these reports last week, the FHA announced substantial reforms to DASP. For the first time, investors must consider principal reduction as a first option for borrowers when evaluating them for a modification. The FHA will also limit interest rate increases following a five-year interest-only modification, which addresses homeowner complaints about the unsustainable modifications commonly offered by servicers like Caliber. Additionally, the FHA will prohibit DASP purchasers from abandoning lower-value homes in their pools — a major concern in communities suffering from vacant, abandoned, and blighted properties. Finally, the FHA announced several initiatives to make it easier for non-profits and local governments to purchase notes: The agency will now  allow non-profits to bid on partial note pools, provide guidance on the sale of notes directly to local governments, and conduct outreach to non-profits and local governments to encourage participation.

These welcome reforms are much-needed and will surely provide better options to homeowners whose notes are sold through DASP. In particular, the new emphasis on principal reduction is welcome, though investors are only required to consider it as an option.  (By contrast, the Community Restoration Program plans to aggressively reduce principal for underwater homeowners). However, the reforms do not apply to the over 100,000 mortgages already sold through the program. Additionally, there is much work ahead to ensure these improvements are effectively implemented and enforced.

Taken together, the New York City Community Restoration Program’s first purchase and the announcement of DASP reforms represent a major step forward for homeowners and their communities, both in New York City and nationwide.

Congratulations to our partners in the Community Restoration Program: the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, MHANY Management, Inc., Neighborhood Restore Housing Development Fund Corporation, and the National Community Stabilization Trust. Thank you to the many supporters of this initial purchase, which include the New York City Council, particularly Council Members Garodnick, Richards, and Miller, Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group, LISC, and Attorney General Schneiderman.

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