Help is available: NYS Foreclosure Relief Unit Mobile Command Center visits Rockland
BY CHERYL SLAVIN
Hosted by Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, and in partnership with several local organizations, the NYS Foreclosure Relief Unit’s Mobile Command Center set up shop at two Rockland locations last week—Spring Valley on Wednesday, and Airmont on Thursday. Staffed by State Department of Financial Services specialists, and equipped with the latest technology, the MCC is part of a statewide initiative that offers increased assistance to homeowners who are at risk of, or already facing, foreclosure.
“Foreclosures have spiked in Rockland County,” says Jaffee. “We’re seeing numbers now that match the level back in 2010, at the height of the recession. There is an increased need for better outreach and information to homeowners about what help is available, especially as foreclosure impacts neighborhoods and communities, not just individual borrowers.”
Housed in a tour-bus sized vehicle, the MCC is deployed to communities that have been identified as disproportionately impacted by foreclosure, and provides space for private consultations with trained financial services staff. The front of the bus is outfitted with several computer stations and two televisions, which on Thursday were tuned to financial programming. The back of the bus holds a private conference area, complete with table and banquette seating.
Michael Romano, the banking and insurance analyst on board last week explained what a typical visit with a borrower might look like.
“When they first come in we talk with them to assess their situation. Most often they’re already in foreclosure, but sometimes they’re trying to prevent it from happening. We open an online inquiry for them with the Department of Financial Services Foreclosure Relief Unit, and we’ll also review with them what options are available, including loan modification and bankruptcy protection.”
Once an inquiry is opened, Romano continued, a case specialist is assigned who, from that point forward, will work directly with the consumer, offering guidance throughout the foreclosure process and acting as a middleman with lenders.
“In addition to economic hardship,” Romano explains, “these consumers are also struggling with anger, shame and fear. So we bring an element of humanity to the process.”
The DFS command center also partners closely with local organizations which similarly offer guidance and assistance to those facing foreclosure. At the Rockland events, representatives from the Rockland Housing Action Coalition, the Legal Aid Society, and Legal Services of the Hudson Valley were also available to meet with homeowners. All three of these organizations provide foreclosure prevention and housing counseling, assistance with loan modification and other applications, and continued support throughout negotiations with banks and lenders. In addition, the Legal Aid Society and Legal Services of the Hudson Valley can provide legal representation if litigation ensues.
“The hardest part in all of this,” notes Alejandra Silva-Exias of the Legal Aid Society, “is the difficulty in negotiating with the banks. They can be rigid, slow and unhelpful.”
Lydia Regis of Legal Services concurs. “The law has changed in recent years and now banks are required to make a good faith effort to settle with the mortgagee before foreclosing on the home. But many lenders continue to prove very difficult to work with.”
“The best thing to do is to get assistance before you fall behind in your payments,” advises Kayla Greene from the RHAC. “But most importantly, homeowners should know their rights and remedies throughout the foreclosure process, and that organizations like the Rockland Housing Action Coalition are available to provide that kind of advice and guidance.”
Along with Jaffee, all the professionals at the event note that foreclosure can affect individuals from all economic strata. Job loss resulting in un- or underemployment continues to be the largest reason for homeowner default on mortgages. Illness, injury, disability and death in the family also account for economic hardship leading to foreclosure. Other factors might include failure to account for an adjustable rate mortgage, tax increases and unconscionable lenders.
For those who missed the MCC visits last week, help is still available. As Romano points out, any individual can open an inquiry with the DFS online or over the phone and receive the same benefits as if it had been opened at the command center. The other organizations are also easily accessed either online or by phone. The Legal Aid Society, in addition, holds regular foreclosure clinics every Tuesday.
For more information, contact the following:
Department of Financial Services: www.dfs.ny.gov
Legal Aid Society: www.legalaidrockland.org, 845-634-3627
Legal Service of the Hudson Valley: www.lshv.org, 914-376-3757
Rockland Housing Action Coalition: www.rhachomes.org, 845-708-5799