By Kelly Mena
Yesterday at the Cornerstone Baptist Church in Bedford-Stuyvesant, New York State Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman joined elected officials and advocates to announce an additional $20 million in funding toward the Homeowner Protection Program (HOPP) to help struggling families avoid foreclosure rescue scams. The new grant program will go toward education, community outreach and referral services to New Yorkers struggling to meet their mortgage obligations.
“We are in the middle of a foreclosure crisis, and for many New Yorkers things are getting worse. New York State has the highest rate of homes in foreclosures in the nation at this time,” Schneiderman went on to state, “whenever people are in hard times, desperate people are primary targets of scammers…Foreclosure rescue scammers are swooping in, promising relief to foreclosure and a fresh start to families that are just worried sick. But what the home rescue scammers actually deliver is heartbreak and some even still homes from right under the rightful homeowners.”
Foreclosure rescue scams according to Schneiderman, tend to target minority groups and neighborhoods, particularly Black and Latino homeowners. They gain their confidence through offering the struggling homeowner(s) relief by offering to pay off their debt in return for the deed of their house. They then turn around and attempt to evict the original homeowner(s) in a bid to sell the property at a much higher price.
The new grant will specifically target education and awareness throughout New York state so that current at-risk homeowners will become more knowledgeable to the foreclosure rescue scams before they fall victim to these scammers.
Emilio Dorcely, President and CEO of Bridge Street Development Corporation, attributes the vulnerability of struggling homeowners not only lack of knowledge but also to homeowners own personal feelings of shame and pride in not being able to afford their home. “On a daily basis we see homeowners, in particular who are in trouble and need assistance from our counselors and without this much needed funding, we wouldn’t be able to provide that counseling. The other thing too is that the outreach is extremely important too because no matter how many people come to our offices, we find that we need to have very innovative and creative strategies to try to meet people where they are because a lot of people are embarrassed and ashamed about the situation they are in. Instead of reaching out for help, they sometimes don’t and that makes the situation even worse.”
Education seems to be the way to go according to Schneiderman and advocates who feel that all New Yorkers should be aware of their rights and options as homeowners.
Executive Director of the Neighborhood Housing Services of Bed-Stuy, Richard Trouth echoed these sentiments, “The foreclosure crisis has not gone away, and in some cases it has gotten worse…One thing’s that we found that was very effective was working with our churches. Working with the churches, they are able to go to their congregations and pastors, have a relationship with them where they [at-risk homeowners] will come out and let us know they’re in trouble…Being here at Cornerstone Baptist is a excellent and is going to be a big plus for the community…as Council Member Cornegy Jr said, Cornerstone will be the model and get out to other churches in the community who need to do this in order to reach suffering homeowners.”
HOPP was launched back in June of 2012 as a response to the high rate of foreclosures that were overwhelming New York state homeowners. The program has helped fund counseling and legal services and as well as free foreclosure prevention services to any at-risk homeowners, including direct advocacy with lenders, financial counseling and assistance preparing the complex documentation that homeowners need in order to submit applications for loan modifications, among many other services.
Schneiderman went on to state, “The key message today is that we are not going to stand by and let this happen. As long as I’m the Attorney General, I have a commitment to providing whatever resources we can and doing everything that we can to make sure no one loses their home.”