Binghamton, NY - February 21, 2014 - Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that his office’s Homeowner Protection Program (HOPP) has served 23,760 New Yorkers statewide in less than a year and half, resulting in 6,660 approved and pending loan modifications. Since October 2012, HOPP has allocated significant funding to 36 legal services organizations and 56 housing counseling agencies dedicated to providing free foreclosure prevention services to struggling homeowners.
In an announcement today at Metro Interfaith Housing Management Corporation in Binghamton, a HOPP grantee, Attorney General Schneiderman also detailed the impact of his proposed legislation to increase the number of land banks in New York State from 10 to 20, which will be introduced by Assembly Member William Magnarelli. In separate legislation outlined by the Attorney General today, lenders would be required to take responsibility for “zombie properties”-- thousands of abandoned homes around the state that are vacant and cause great harm to communities. That bill will also create a statewide registry of zombie properties, so municipalities will be able to track abandoned homes and enforce local property maintenance codes.
“When I took office, I pledged to make sure that no struggling families in New York would have to face foreclosure without consulting a lawyer or housing counselor first. Thanks to HOPP, we have made significant progress on behalf of homeowners statewide, and we are nearing that goal,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “In addition, with our proposed ‘zombie properties’ and land bank legislation, we are working to help the other victims of the mortgage crisis: our communities. By rehabilitating towns still reeling from the housing market collapse, we can ensure that all New Yorkers can feel safe and secure in their homes.”
Binghamton Mayor Richard C. David said, "As mayor, I know firsthand the impact that foreclosures and vacant properties have on the communities that I serve. From lost revenue for our city to the public safety concerns for our residents, these issues put an undeniable strain on our neighborhoods, including lost revenue for our city and often public safety concerns for our residents. I appreciate the Attorney Generals' leadership on this issue, and look forward to working with him to address these difficult problems."
Assembly Member Donna Lupardo (D-Endwell) said, "I want to personally thank Attorney General Schneiderman for his work on the Homeowner Protection Program. During the first 15 months, more than 650 homeowners were helped in the Southern Tier alone. This program is working to keep properties on the tax roll and promote safer neighborhoods in our community. As a co-sponsor of the state land bank legislation, I am especially grateful for the Attorney General's support in addressing urban blight in Broome County."
Conant Smith, Housing Counselor Coordinator of Metro Interfaith Housing Management Corporation, said, “The Homeowner Protection Program (HOPP) has been and continues to be instrumental in allowing Metro Interfaith’s housing counseling agency to continue much-needed mortgage default intervention for homeowners of the Southern Tier. Metro Interfaith appreciates the commitment and work of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and his staff for securing the funds that allow us to assist distressed homeowners.”
Of the 23,760 New York homeowners who have been served by HOPP in the past 15 months, 684 reside in the Southern Tier. In addition, of the 6,660 approved and pending loan modifications statewide, 161 are happening in the Southern Tier.
In October 2012, the Attorney General’s Office launched HOPP, a three-year commitment of $60 million to fund housing counseling and legal services for struggling New York homeowners. HOPP counselors provide at-risk mortgage holders with a range of services, including direct advocacy with lenders, financial counseling and assistance in preparing the complex documentation that homeowners need to submit applications for loan modifications. This process usually results in lower monthly mortgage payments and prevents foreclosures from going forward, but it can take more than a year to negotiate.
Along with providing legal assistance to New York homeowners recovering from the foreclosure crisis, Attorney General Schneiderman has also proposed new legislation to help localities statewide that are still struggling. One of the Attorney General’s bills would change state law to increase the maximum allowable number of land banks from 10 to 20. Many cities do not have land banks but have a critical need for the kind of community redevelopment that land banks can make possible. With this expansion, this valuable resource will reach even more communities in need.
The Attorney General’s other legislation would address the problem of so-called zombie properties. Too often, when a homeowner falls behind on mortgage payments and receives a notice of arrears or a foreclosure notice, the homeowner abandons the property. Many families may not understand that they have the right to remain in their home until a judge declares the foreclosure complete, which can take years. At the same time, there is evidence that lenders are actually slowing down the foreclosure process, and in some cases, seeking court orders to cancel the foreclosure action in the middle of the process. With no one maintaining these derelict properties, they become vulnerable to crime, decay, vandalism and arson. Furthermore, these zombie homes decrease the property value of neighboring homes and become an enormous burden for local code enforcement and emergency service providers.
An epidemic of zombie homes has impacted communities statewide, including the Southern Tier. Across the state, RealtyTrac estimates more than 15,000 properties to be zombie foreclosures – in the Southern Tier, approximately 1,000 properties are likely zombie foreclosures.
The bill in development by the Attorney General’s office would close the current loophole, changing state law to make lenders responsible for delinquent properties soon after they are abandoned – not at the end of a lengthy foreclosure process. It would also create a statewide registry for zombie properties, so municipalities will be able to track abandoned homes and enforce local property maintenance codes.
Kirsten Keefe of the Empire Justice Center said, “We are incredibly pleased with the continued success of HOPP in its second year. The non-profit housing counseling and legal services grantees funded by the Office of the Attorney General are providing invaluable services to New York homeowners in distress and are really making a difference in the lives of those they serve. We are thankful for the work they do, and we are grateful to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for the creation of HOPP and for his continued commitment to New York’s homeowners and communities.”
Jessica Bacher, Managing Director at the Pace Land Use Law Center, which is studying the zombie properties problem in several counties across New York, said, “A statewide registry would alleviate a significant local burden and shed light on an issue that until now has gone almost unnoticed. The registry would help to clarify the extent of the problem, so appropriate strategies and enforcement techniques can be developed and deployed.”
Homeowners who are in need of assistance are encouraged to call the Attorney General’s statewide foreclosure hotline at 855-HOME-456 and visit www.AGHomeHelp.com to connect with organizations and agencies in their area that can provide foreclosure prevention services.