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St. John’s foreclosure clinic aids homeowners

More than 100 financially anguished homeowners crowded the halls at St. John’s University’s Marillac Hall Saturday seeking respite from the deepening foreclosure crisis that has already taken a devastating toll on many Queens residents.

The event was sponsored by city Comptroller William Thompson and gave homeowners in danger of foreclosure an opportunity to meet one−on−one with their mortgage servicers and work with financial counselors. The effort was designed to educate homeowners and help them hash out a plan to avoid losing their homes.

“While all corners of New York City have been affected during this housing crisis, Queens has undoubtedly suffered the most,” Thompson said. “We have seen the number of foreclosures more than double in our largest borough, so we must help as many people as we can remain in their homes.”

Thompson said a recent report by PropertyShark.com shows that as of August 2008, Queens had 113 percent more homes currently at the foreclosure auction stage — 254 — than in the same month a year ago, when it had 119.

In addition, the report said Queens accounted for more than 66 percent of all city homes at the foreclosure auction stage in August 2008.

Assistant Comptroller for Commercial Banking Denise Pease said events like Saturday’s foreclosure clinic are aimed at keeping the fabric of communities together by getting residents to confront the fiscal reality of their situation before it is too late.

“It’s important for people to get away from the fear and embarrassment that makes them not want to reach out for help,” Pease said. “We want to make sure our communities are stable.”

Pease, workers from Thompson’s office, community leaders and mortgage counselors from major lenders like Wells Fargo and Washington Mutual−Chase buzzed around inside Marillac Hall throughout the day Saturday as dozens of homeowners sought out the free services being provided.

Both Pease and Carmen Martinez, director of Thompson’s Community Action Center, said working directly with the lenders who financed the mortgage — while it may not seem attractive — is the best way to ward off the danger of foreclosure.

Martinez said more often than not, homeowners will wrongly get involved with third−party lenders, who offer what seems like a panacea for their financial troubles, only to realize when it is too late that they have been conned.

“I wish I had a dollar for every foreclosure scam that comes across my desk,” Martinez said. “When someone comes to you and offers what looks like a golden egg, it’s best just to walk away.”

Pease said third−party lenders offering what she calls “exotic lending products,” which are not limited to but include subprime loans, often prey on communities like those in southeastern Queens because there are too few large banking institutions that can provide lending to local residents.

Southeastern Queens communities such as Jamaica, St. Albans and Laurelton have been hit especially hard by the foreclosure crisis as a result, Pease said, and she believes bolstering the number of reliable, fiscally solvent banking institutions is a key to recovery in the area.

“If you’re in an area where there aren’t banks to lend to you, you’ll take those exotic lending products,” Pease said. “If you want to free people from poverty and empower them financially, you need these kind of institutions in the community.”

For more information on Thompson’s efforts to fight foreclosure in Queens, visit www.comptroller.nyc.gov.

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e−mail at Sstirling@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, ext. 138.

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