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.

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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 to get connected to free, high-quality help.

Want to know what homeowners told Shani? Head over to 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


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

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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How one couple lost their condo, but found a new home in the Bronx

by Center for NYC Neighborhoods on 2 Comments

In this Friday, June 17, 2016, photo, Carmen Ramirez, and her husband, Ricardo Ramirez, embrace in their room at the Bronxwood Home for the Aged, in the Bronx borough of New York. A series of emergency expenses were enough to cost Carmen and Ricardo Ramirez their one-bedroom condominium in Washington Heights, a neighborhood close to the northern tip of Manhattan. Now a couple entering their golden years is out of their home and in an assisted-living facility. (AP Photo/Richard Drew) Carmen and Ricardo Ramirez had been living the American Dream of homeownership in Washington Heights when the recession interrupted it.

As recounted by The Associated Press in a recent story marking a decade since the housing crash, the couple had been managing the payments for the $299,000 adjustable-rate mortgage on their one-bedroom condominium in Upper Manhattan.

But the downturn and emergency expenses put their homeownership at grave risk in 2010.

That year, they had to shutter their steakhouse, a source of income. The next year, Ricardo fell, suffering a traumatic brain injury; Carmen suffered an injury to her leg and back in 2012. Their finances were further destabilized when funeral costs for her parents caused the couple to miss mortgage payments, “triggering fees for late payments that led to foreclosure,” the AP reported.

“Have you ever heard the saying, when it rains, it pours?” Carmen, 61, told the AP. “Well, it was one after the other with us.”

The couple was facing eviction from their condo when the New York City Consumer Affairs Department referred them to the Center for NYC Neighborhoods’ Housing Mobility program, which helps homeowners who can no longer afford to stay in their homes move to new housing. Since 2013, with support from the Mizuho USA Foundationthe program has helped more than 300 homeowners. The program combines one-on-one housing counseling, assistance in securing alternative housing, financial advice, relocation grants, and links homeowners to trusted realtors. 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.

“We are working with clients who face enormous challenges at the crossroads of the foreclosure crisis and New York City’s housing affordability crisis,” says Joseph Sant, Director of Homeowner Services at the Center. “Our goal is to help these families avoid homelessness, find affordable housing, and emerge with financial support as they close out a very difficult chapter in their lives.”

For Carmen and Ricardo Ramirez, that chapter in their life found a resolution in the Bronx.

Working with the Human Resource Administration’s Adult Protective Services, the Center’s Housing Mobility program staff was able to help the couple secure alternative housing at Bronxwood Assisted Living Residence just before an eviction order was executed by the Sheriff. The facility helped the couple to apply for an increase of their Social Security Income, so they could pay for all of their housing, food and care expenses.

The Housing Mobility Program also provided a one-time relocation grant of $500, and secured a $900 grant from Jarvie Commonweal Emergency Fund to help the couple as they worked to stabilize their finances.

But giving up their home did come at a cost: They lost the home equity they had built over the years.

“We got nothing back — except a tax bill,” Carmen told the AP.

That, as the AP reported, turns out to be the case for a “disproportionate number of minorities” who lost their homes in the aftermath of the housing crisis, and could have far-reaching consequences for wealth generation and racial divisions for generations.

PHOTO:  In this Friday, June 17, 2016, photo, Carmen Ramirez, and her husband, Ricardo Ramirez, embrace in their room at the Bronxwood Home for the Aged, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

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Big victories and one major defeat for the NY State housing agenda

by Caroline Nagy on 1 Comment

The end of New York State’s legislative session is always an action-packed time, and this year did not disappoint, with lawmakers working into the early hours of Saturday morning on June 17, while advocates labored to keep New York’s housing needs on the agenda. Ultimately, the final results include several victories and one major defeat: While homeowners and their advocates secured hard-fought solutions for “zombie” properties and streamlining the foreclosure process, the lack of a budget agreement on $2 billion in funding for long-promised housing programs is a grave disappointment. Here are how our priorities turned out.


  • Community Restoration Fund: Legislation establishing the New York State Community Restoration Fund passed the Senate and Assembly. The Fund will play a vital role in helping communities statewide to recover from the foreclosure crisis. Administered by the State of New York Mortgage Agency, it will purchase mortgage notes of homeowners at risk of foreclosure, and work with homeowners to keep them in their home whenever possible. It will also be able to acquire and renovate foreclosed and abandoned properties, redeveloping them as affordable housing. This is a major victory for homeowners, and represents years of advocacy at the state level.  A huge thank you to Assembly Member Weinstein and Senator Savino for introducing this legislation, as well as to Senator Klein’s office for their determined advocacy.
  • Zombie Properties: In another major victory for communities affected by the foreclosure crisis, the Legislature adopted new requirements for tackling “zombie” properties as part of a package of foreclosure reforms contained within the end-of-session “Big Ugly” legislation. “Zombies” are abandoned homes that are stuck in the foreclosure process, rapidly deteriorating with no one responsible for their upkeep. While banks are responsible for maintaining properties following a foreclosure, zombie properties have remained in limbo. Fortunately, the zombie legislation fixes this problem by requiring banks and servicers to maintain vacant and abandoned properties prior to foreclosure. It builds on a previous agreement with mortgage servicers made by the New York Department of Financial Services. State Senator Klein and State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman have also served as strong advocates on this issue.
  • Improvements to the foreclosure process: A number of other key improvements were included within the “Big Ugly” to better help New York homeowners at risk of losing their homes due to foreclosure. This includes changes to the State settlement conference process that will provide homeowners with the right to submit an answer to foreclosure actions brought against them up to 30 days after their first settlement conference. The legislation will also improve the notice homeowners receive when foreclosure proceedings begin, providing better information to homeowners about their rights and where to seek help.
  • Bill of Rights for homeowners: Finally, the legislation calls on the New York Department of Financial Services to publish a Consumer Bill of Rights, detailing the rights and responsibilities of the plaintiff and the defendant in a foreclosure proceeding. This is to be developed in consultation with all stakeholders, and, as homeowner advocates, we look forward to working with DFS to ensure that the resulting Bill of Rights makes a strong stand for the fair treatment of homeowners seeking to avoid foreclosure.


  • No funding for CRF or homeownership programs through the MOU: While we are thrilled with the above legislative reforms, the lack of an agreement on funding for the $2 billion affordable housing plan is a major disappointment. This funding was agreed upon as part of the State budget negotiations earlier this year, with the provision that the Governor, Assembly Speaker, and Senate Majority Leader would come to an agreement on the specifics of the plan, to be finalized in a Memorandum of Understanding. Unfortunately, the session ended without this agreement, though $150 million in new funding was committed for 1,200 units of supportive housing, and other funding priorities continue to be negotiated. Ultimately, we hope to see an additional funding agreement with an initial investment of $30 million for the newly-established Community Restoration Fund so that it is able to live up to its promise.

While there is significantly more work to be done on the budget front, the legislative session achieved real results for New Yorkers at risk of foreclosure and for the communities they live in. A huge congratulations to our partners in advocacy, particularly New Yorkers for Responsible Lending and the Empire Justice Center.

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How one New York homeowner triumphed over foreclosure

by Center for NYC Neighborhoods on 1 Comment

Pamela Litzsey-Thomas

For Pamela Litzsey-Thomas, going into foreclosure on her Niagara Falls home was just another in a series of financial setbacks that included losing her job and getting inundated with medical bills after she was struck by a bus. “I just kept feeling like I was being slapped in the face,” she said.

But Litzsey-Thomas refused to give up the house where she lived with her young son, even as her attempts to get a loan modification were stymied. Like hundreds of homeowners across the state, help finally came in the form of the New York State Mortgage Assistance Program (NYS-MAP).

In 2014, the Office of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman launched NYS-MAP to keep families out of foreclosure. In less than three years of operation, the program has loaned $18 million to homeowners and prevented more than 650 foreclosures.

Litzsey-Thomas  secured a NYS-MAP loan in 2015 that helped her to reinstate her affordable mortgage after receiving help from Legal Services for the Elderly, Disabled or Disadvantaged of Western New York, Inc. LSED is a member of the New York State Attorney General’s Homeowner Protection Program, a network of over 85 organizations dedicated to providing homeowners with free, qualified mortgage assistance relief services across New York.

For Litzsey-Thomas, getting the NYS-MAP loan was transformational. “I can breathe again,” she said recently in a phone interview.

Her story is all too familiar among NYS-MAP recipients: one marked by personal and financial challenges that threatened to spin out of control.

After going out on medical leave that year because of a difficult pregnancy, she was laid off from her job upon returning to work in 2011; temporary jobs weren’t enough to patch together a sustainable income. Before she could get caught up, she was impossibly behind on her mortgage.

In June 2012, she fell into further financial difficulties when she was struck by a bus and had to undergo a series of intensive surgeries. Her physician told her she wouldn’t be able to go back to work. Her family’s income is now limited to her Department of Social Services benefits, but she is able to afford her mortgage and bills now. She now subsists off of her limited Department of Social Services benefits.

“When the MAP program came along, I was like, ‘Wow.’ I said, ‘Okay, that was my blessing, my godsend, after all my patience,” she said. “I don’t have to worry about where we are going to sleep. I don’t have to worry about that. I have weathered the storm.”

The Center for New York City Neighborhoods and the Empire Justice Center administered the NYS-MAP program, which is currently closed to applications.

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How to defeat the blight of ‘zombie homes’ in New York

by Center for NYC Neighborhoods on 0 Comments


Thousands of “zombie homes” continue to blight communities across New York, but housing advocates are praising the Assembly’s recent passage of legislation that would go a long way toward attacking the problem.

But some policy experts also say the legislation, which now faces a battle in the Senate, provides only some solutions to the problem. They say it will take a “blend” of legislation to prevent and maintain vacant and abandoned properties, as well as assist local municipalities with dealing with them.

Empire Justice Center’s Kirsten Keefe created a “blueprint” of active legislation that could do so. Here are five key pieces:

  1. The Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Act (A.6932A/S.4781A): This bill, introduced by Attorney State General Eric Schneiderman, was approved by the Assembly last week and would require banks and other mortgage lenders to maintain properties during the foreclosure process, which in some cases can take about three years. It will also create a state public registry, and it authorizes localities to take enforcement action. Fines of up to $1,000 per day can be levied for properties that aren’t properly maintained.
  2. The Community Restoration Fund: This fund would help avert foreclosures by acquiring distressed properties at a discount and passing on the savings to homeowners through affordable modifications, where possible. In cases where there is no feasible debt restructuring, the Fund could instead help a homeowner find new housing and then rehabilitate or demolish the property depending on the needs of each neighborhood. The Center is a member of New Yorkers for Responsible Lending, a coalition of statewide housing groups that is supporting the fund.
  3. Zombie Remediation Act of 2016 (A.9655/S.7295): This legislation would allow municipal governments to compel banks to complete foreclosure proceedings or discharge the mortgage for any certified abandoned property.
  4. Land bank legislation (A.7848/S.5776): Allow land banks to enter abandoned properties and examine them with the possibility of acquiring them.
  5. Mandatory settlement conferences: (A.1298/S.5242): The legislation makes mandatory settlement conferences more efficient in an attempt to avoid foreclosures that lead to abandonment of properties.

For a fuller description of the bills, and their potential impact, check out this chart from Empire Justice Center:

Vacant property legislation

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‘Nudging’ homeowners through loan modifications with text messages

by Center for NYC Neighborhoods on 0 Comments

A text message to a homeowner

For many homeowners working to get a loan modification, just staying on top of deadlines and paperwork can be tedious, complicated, and overwhelming — even when they are working with a professional housing counselor.

That’s why the Center for NYC Neighborhoods is partnering with Neighborhood Housing Services of Bedford-Stuyvesant on an innovative one-year pilot program to assess whether routine text-messages to clients’ mobile phones about their loan modification can “nudge” them toward being better stewards of their own financial decisions. These text-message prompts are combined with traditional face-to-face housing counseling or phone calls from the counselors.

The concept is based on a growing body of academic scholarship in behavioral economics that looks at methods of encouraging people through small, purposeful interventions in their daily activities. American economist Richard Thaler popularized the use of behavioral economics with his best-selling book “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness.” New Yorkers are probably most familiar with how behavioral economics are applied through the City’s efforts to reduce exposure to foodborne illness through its system of letter grades for restaurants. In that case, the letter-grade system acts to nudge consumers toward restaurants that are likely to have been well maintained, generally sanitary, and therefore safe.

Applying such interventions to financial skills — such as paying down high-interest credit cards or making regular savings deposits — is a growing field of practical inquiry.

Carolee Lewis of Jamaica, Queens, is one of the clients at NHS Bed-Stuy who has agreed to participate in the pilot program, which runs through September. The 71-year-old retired registered nurse approached the organization after her home went into foreclosure in the fall of 2015. NHS Bed-Stuy recommended a loan modification.

She said receiving text messages on her cell phone has eased the process, especially since she lives far from the offices of NHS Bed-Stuy.

“It reminds me of what’s going on, what they are about to do,” said Lewis, who has already received four text prompts through the program that officially launched in March. She says the organization also notifies her of workshops she might be interested in and makes it easy for her to respond to messages.

“It’s easier to text,” she said. “Sometimes they’re busy, and they can’t call me right away.”

Some example text prompts to clients in the program may include messages such as “Call your mortgage servicer to verify receipt of application for modification” or “Reminder from NHS Bed Stuy: Submit bank statements and pay stubs to us.”

A pair of researchers were hired to design and analyze the pilot program, with the aim of collecting data that will help to evaluate whether text-message “nudges” can be effective and integrated into future foreclosure counseling.

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Free home elevation program in NYC could lower flood insurance costs

by Center for NYC Neighborhoods on 0 Comments

homebeingelevated (1)

One of the few guaranteed methods for lowering increasingly expensive homeowner flood insurance is to elevate homes, but there is little public funding to help pay for the costly retrofits.

But in a much-praised move, the State has announced a $7.5 million pilot program that will elevate homes owned by lower- and middle-income families in low-lying areas of Staten Island and Gerritsen Beach and Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, completely free of charge. The deadline to pre-apply is May 15, 2016.

Eligible homeowners must not have received elevation funds from other programs; they must live in the 100-year floodplain; and they must be able show their homes were damaged by Hurricane Sandy but still habitable.

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

The primary goal of Project UPLIFT is to safeguard homes in surge-vulnerable neighborhoods from future storms. But elevating homes will also save families tens of thousands of dollars in flood insurance. Homeowners are seeing increases in their flood insurance payments of between 5 and 25% this year alone. Those rate increases have become a financial burden to the tens of thousands of low- and middle-income families who live along the 520 miles of New York City waterfront.

Even more alarming, for the first time this year, homeowners who have allowed their flood insurance policies to lapse more than 90 days will have to reinstate them at the higher full-risk rate, which will likely mean paying out thousands of dollars more to cover their homes.

Follow this link to apply for the program: Project UPLIFT

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