WHITE PLAINS, NY –Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, joined by housing advocates and local lawmakers, today released a new, three-year report detailing the results of his office’s recent efforts to prevent foreclosures, keep families in their homes, and rebuild communities hit hardest by the housing crash. The three programs outlined in the report—the Homeowner Protection Program, New York State Mortgage Assistance Program, and AGScamHelp.com—have helped tens of thousands of New York families, including nearly 7,000 homeowners in Western New York and the Southern Tier, avoid foreclosure. The programs are funded by more than $100 million from the settlements that Attorney General Schneiderman negotiated with the nation’s largest banks following the collapse of the housing market.
The foreclosure crisis has done significant damage to the real estate market in Western New York and the Southern Tier. In 2010, nearly twenty percent of Chautauqua County’s total housing stock was vacant. According to data obtained from RealtyTrac, 33 percent of residential foreclosures in Western New York last year were vacant properties. That number rises to 36 percent in the Southern Tier.
“This report is a sign of the great progress we have made in reaching tens of thousands of New York families in need of foreclosure relief,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “The free, high-quality services provided by my office’s network of housing counselors and lawyers often mean the difference between a refinanced mortgage and homelessness. I will continue to work hard to give New York families a fair shot in their negotiations with the banks. The victims of the housing crisis deserve justice.”
Homeowner Protection Program
The Homeowner Protection Program (HOPP), which was launched in June 2012, is a network of almost 90 housing counseling and legal services agencies that provide free, high-quality assistance to at-risk families across New York to help them avoid foreclosure.
In less than three years, HOPP has served more than 50,000 homeowners statewide. OAG has four HOPP partners in Western New York and ten HOPP partners in the Southern Tier. Together with OAG’s statewide anchor partner, Empire Justice Center, these local partners have helped 6,855 families in the region negotiate 2,988 pending or approved loan modifications.
New York State Mortgage Assistance Program
The New York State Mortgage Assistance Program (NYS-MAP), which began processing applications from across the state in October 2014, provides families at risk of immediately losing their homes with small loans to pay off debts that are a barrier to mortgage modification.
NYS-MAP loans, which may be as much as $40,000, help families who are struggling to avoid foreclosure to pay off mortgage arrears, delinquent second or third mortgage liens, or unpaid property tax bills. The program is funded with money from the bank settlements.
The program is modeled after a New York City-funded pilot program administered through the Center for New York City Neighborhoods (CNYCN). OAG is working with CNYCN, as well as the Empire Justice Center, to assist in the operations of NYS-MAP. Both agencies are contracted by the Office of the Attorney General to assist with the administration of HOPP.
In less than a year, NYS-MAP has approved 309 loans across the state worth more than $9.3 million. The average loan amount, statewide, is $30,371. In Western New York and the Southern Tier, NYS-MAP has approved 77 loans totaling $2,053,446.
AGScamHelp.com, launched in December 2014, is a web-based app that helps homeowners determine whether a mortgage assistance company has been vetted by a government agency. OAG urges homeowners at risk of foreclosure to work with a free, qualified housing counseling agency within HOPP. The app is supported by funds from the bank settlements.
OAG launched AGScamHelp.com in direct response to an observed increase in mortgage rescue scams in New York and across the country. According to a December 2014 report by the Center for NYC Neighborhoods and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, more than 42,000 homeowners have been conned out of $100 million nationwide.
New Yorkers have been hit particularly hard. From March 2010 to September 2014, New York homeowners submitted over 2,700 foreclosure rescue scam complaints to the Lawyer Committee for Civil Rights, documenting at least $8.25 million in losses.
AGScamHelp.com has several informational features:
Search Government-Vetted Companies: AGScamHelp.com allows consumers to search the name of an individual or company to determine if that entity is a “government-vetted” agency (that is, either a member of the Attorney General’s HOPP network or a HUD-certified counseling agency). If the company searched is not a government-vetted agency, the consumer will be told to proceed with caution and advised with several tips on how to identify signs of a foreclosure rescue scam.
Locate Nearby Counseling Partners: The web-based app also features an interactive map that allows consumers to find the nearest Homeowner Protection Program (HOPP) grantee. The Attorney General has dedicated $100 million to fund HOPP, a network of more than 85 housing counseling and legal services agencies across the state that are dedicated to providing free assistance to New Yorkers.
Report Scams: Consumers who have already been contacted by, or are in the process of working with a company suspected of operating a foreclosure rescue scam, will also have the option to file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office. They will be directed to a separate page where they can complete a complaint form online. All complaints will be directed to the Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Frauds and Protection, and will be mediated by the Attorney General’s Office.
Get Tips: AGScamHelp.com offers details on how to recognize signs of a foreclosure rescue scam, including samples of scam letters and other materials utilized by fraudsters to target homeowners, and provides information about recent foreclosure scams that have been the subject of enforcement actions brought by the Attorney General’s Office and other law enforcement agencies.
“The New York State Office of Attorney General has made it possible for the Chautauqua County Land Bank Corporation and the other state land banks to get up and running and to undertake programs that are having a real impact on our local neighborhoods,” said Vince Horrigan, Chautauqua County Executive. “Through innovative programming involving partnerships and collaboration, the Chautauqua County Land Bank is dealing directly with the problem of delinquent, abandoned, dilapidated and tax foreclosed properties, and the results are becoming evident in neighborhood after neighborhood.”
“The City of Jamestown has benefited tremendously from Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s commitment to our land bank and the Homeowner Protection Program,” said Jamestown Mayor Sam Teresi. “The housing crisis impacted our nation and neighborhoods, but these initiatives are now renovating properties that were once abandoned and keeping families in their homes.”
“I applaud Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for the work he has done for many years to fight foreclosure and help people from across the state from losing their homes,” said Dunkirk Mayor A.J. Dolce. “Thanks to his leadership, funds from settlements with the big banks that caused the financial crisis are now being used to keep at-risk New Yorkers from losing their homes and revitalize our neighborhoods.”
“We appreciate the commitment that Attorney General Schneiderman has made to help hardworking New York families who are facing foreclosure,” said Keith McCafferty, Managing Attorney from Legal Assistance of Western New York. “The support we’ve received through the Attorney General’s Homeowner Protection Program has enabled us to provide the legal help necessary for hundreds of New Yorkers to avoid foreclosure.”
Attorney General Schneiderman has made combatting the housing crisis a priority of his administration. The Attorney General has also pursued relief for communities by directing $33 million from the National Mortgage Settlement to community land banks through the Community Revitalization Initiative (CRI). Land banks are nonprofit organizations that can acquire property that is tax-delinquent, tax-foreclosed, vacant, or abandoned, and return the properties to productive use. Land banks are working at the local level across New York State to rebuild and revitalize their communities.
Jamestown and the surrounding region are served by the Chautauqua County Land Bank, which has received a total of $2,806,000 in funding. OAG funding is helping the Chautauqua County Land Bank demolish between 40-50 highly distressed properties, as well as preserve and resell 40-50 vacant “side lots” that will be converted to open space and transferred to responsible owners who will put the lots back on the tax rolls.