State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said he supports President Barack Obama’s $275 billion plan to tackle the foreclosure crisis that has cost thousands of Queens residents their homes and is looking for ways to stop the predatory lending that led to the housing crisis.
Cuomo, the former U.S. Housing and Urban Development secretary, held a town hall meeting at PS 268 in Jamaica last Thursday night to discuss various quality−of−life topics that affect Queens residents.
The biggest issue that came up was housing since the southeast Queens area has the highest number of foreclosures in the state, according to U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D−Jamaica), who attended the meeting.
The attorney general, who grew up in Jamaica, said the surge in foreclosures was the result of vicious predatory lending that went unchecked for years and ultimately brought down the entire U.S. economy.
“They put people into homes who shouldn’t have been in the homes in the first place, only so they could get the fees on the mortgages,” he said of the lending institutions.
Meeks said he has gotten calls from hundreds of homeowners who said they were swindled into buying a subprime mortgage, a home loan that starts off with a small interest rate that rises rapidly over a short period of time.
“We found that those people are preying upon ... seniors and single mothers. That’s why we need individuals who are on our team and support us in our time of need,” Meeks said.
Cuomo told hundreds of Queens residents who packed the school auditorium that his office has been enforcing stricter laws against lenders who take advantage of those homeowners. He said he has been reviewing the practices of many of the lending institutions, such as seeing if they violated criminal laws, including civil rights laws.
“It is illegal to discriminate in lending, in housing and employment,” he said.
The attorney general said his office is also pursuing criminal cases against financial institutions, big and small, for violating state banking laws. Cuomo said predatory lenders could face a loss of their lending license, fines or jail time, depending on the charges.
As for victims of some of the foreclosure crisis, the attorney general said the president’s plan is a good way to help people on the verge of losing their homes. Obama’s plan, set to go into effect March 4, is designed to help certain borrowers by allowing lenders to refinance the subprime loans.
The plan, which Obama has said could help as many as 5 million Americans, will give lenders the opportunity to reduce mortgage payments to no more than 31 percent of the borrower’s income.
“I think it’s the right approach. The housing crisis is what triggered the economic crisis,” Cuomo said.
Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e−mail at ipereira@t
©2009 Community News Group
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