New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) was formed in 1990 to provide high quality, free, civil legal services to low-income New Yorkers who cannot afford attorneys. It is a non-profit group and employs approximately 220 attorneys and paralegals. NYLAG is one of the Center for NYC Neighborhoods’ legal services Network Partners. This past week, I spoke with Rose Marie Cantanno, supervising attorney for the foreclosure prevention project at NYLAG, about the work they do to prevent foreclosures.

Rose Marie first emphasized that NYLAG represents the whole spectrum of people involved in foreclosure, from those who think they may be at risk of falling behind on their mortgage to those with a sale date in a week, and although the majority of their clients want to keep their homes, they also represent clients who are ready to move on. For the former cases, NYLAG attorneys will often talk a client through the whole process of foreclosure in New York and refer them to a housing counselor, representing them when they get a court date in the future. Rose Marie emphasized that “our goal is to work together with housing counselors—and the earlier someone gets to either, the better.”

Rose Marie also talked about having the correct expectations when beginning to work with either a legal services advocate or a housing counselor. She stressed that “foreclosure litigation is a way to get to a settlement” and that, in the end, homeowners will have to meet in the middle with banks. Even so, people struggling with their mortgage or already in foreclosure shouldn’t be embarrassed; NYLAG gets 50 to 70 intake calls a week regarding foreclosure and that is not counting the people they help in clinics, or in court, to write and file individual motions.

In Rose Marie’s estimation, loan scams tied to foreclosure are increasing rapidly, and Rose Marie said that “more than half of the people we meet with have given anywhere between one and ten thousand dollars to people who have promised them a modification.” In order to avoid being scammed she noted the importance of reading what you’re signing and to never pay upfront.

Other advice Rose Marie gave is to open your mail when it arrives, and show up in court if summoned. Finally, the most important point is to not ignore the problem and to ask for help as soon as possible.

Homeowners can reach a housing counseling or legal services professional by calling our Homeowner Hotline. Just call 311 in New York City or 211 in New York State and ask for a foreclosure prevention specialist, or reach the Center directly through the Attorney General’s Statewide Hotline at 855-HOME-456. Hotline representatives will connect homeowners with high-quality housing counseling or legal services near them—at no cost to the homeowner.