The city has launched a new initiative that points residents toward free counseling and assistance to prevent them from losing their homes amid a foreclosure crisis that has hit Queens hardest among the five boroughs.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the new campaign last Thursday at the Legal Aid Society on Queens Boulevard in Kew Gardens, where he was flanked by members of ACORN and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, who has set up programs in his city to fight home foreclosures.
Bloomberg’s program encourages borough homeowners to use nonprofit organizations for free legal assistance, mortgage counseling and education services that could help them hold onto their property as opposed to using paid services.
“The numbers have really been accelerating and we don’t expect the trend to end anytime soon,” Bloomberg said of the rise in city foreclosures. “Homeowners are often too bewildered or don’t know where to turn and, all too often, creditors take advantage under the guise of providing help.”
The mayor said there have been more than 13,000 home foreclosures in the five boroughs during the past year, of which 5,100 were in Queens.
The city’s new initiative includes advertising for free mortgage-related services at bus shelters, subways, churches and businesses in communities that have been hit especially hard by foreclosures, such as Jamaica.
Bloomberg has also called for mandatory settlement conferences between lenders and homeowners. Notices from lenders about settlement meetings are difficult to comprehend and end up getting treated like junk mail, while representatives sent by lenders to meetings are often not authorized to approve modified loans, the mayor said.
The required conferences enable many more homeowners to stay in their houses, he said.
Aoah Middleton of St. Albans said she nearly lost her home by using a paid legal service after getting a foreclosure notice. But contacting a nonprofit Brooklyn legal service allowed her to keep her house.
“They saved my children and me from drowning in foreclosure and potential homelessness,” she said. “Being in foreclosure is one of the most overwhelming things I’ve ever faced.”
Pat Boone, president of ACORN’s New York operation, said hundreds of families lose their homes in Queens every week.
Bloomberg also called on loan services and banks to determine whether homeowners are eligible for federal relief that could prevent them from losing their homes.
“My district has the highest foreclosure rate in the city,” City Councilman Tom White (D-South Ozone Park) said. “The worst thing a person can do when they see a foreclosure is not to respond.”
Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.
©2009 Community News Group
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