New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman agreed to provide further funding from settlement money proceeds under his control to ensure foreclosure prevention services continue throughout New York State. In the budget bill extender, the Legislature authorized the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) to appropriate $10 million to continue funding for his Homeowner Protection Program (HOPP). HOPP started as a three year program on October 1, 2012 with proceeds from the National Mortgage Services Settlement. Attorney General Schneiderman extended the program two more years with funding from his settlement with J.P. Morgan Chase. HOPP currently funds ninety-four non-profit housing counseling and legal services organizations to provide direct assistance to distressed homeowners. Services are available in every county of the state, with the program supports 545 jobs statewide.
Clients receiving services come from all walks of life – families, young couples, single parents, empty nesters, widowers and divorcees. They live in the suburbs, cities and rural areas. Despite their different backgrounds and paths, they all experienced a financial hardship that caused them to fall behind. It might be related to health issues, a brief period of unemployment, reduction in household income, separation, divorce or a death in the family. Regardless of their backgrounds, though, they all share the same goal: to save their home and get things back on track. But when the threat of foreclosure starts looming, it often becomes too overwhelming and stressful for them to manage alone. Every homeowner facing foreclosure needs someone to advocate on their behalf, but very few have the luxury of being able to afford a private attorney.
Local foreclosure prevention services give homeowners opportunities that they otherwise wouldn’t have. They have early access to housing counselors to guide them through the complicated process of working with their lender. They have access to free legal representation during the often lengthy court proceedings. These services are crucial when it comes to keeping more New Yorkers in their homes. When a client successfully receives a modification or their foreclosure action is discontinued, the same words of appreciation are uttered time and time again – that they could not have saved their home without the assistance of their advocate. Ask any homeowner who has fought, or is still fighting, to save their home, and they’ll tell you first-hand that these services make a difference.
New York State’s foreclosure crisis unfortunately continues at crisis-era levels, and the number of reverse mortgage foreclosures is growing. In addition, the federal government’s Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) has ended after seven years. Big changes are expected in the industry, changes that will certainly make the loss mitigation process more complicated and more difficult to achieve. Homeowners today need even more assistance to navigate the complex world of proprietary bank modifications. The continued and ongoing funding for foreclosure prevention services is just as important now as it was at the outset of the mortgage crisis to ensure that New York homeowners remain protected.
Since HOPP was scheduled to end September 30, 2017, advocates statewide embarked last fall on a campaign seeking $10 million to continue services through the end of the state fiscal year, and a commitment of $20 million for the next state fiscal year. Dubbed Protect New York Homes, the campaign was steered by a small group of advocates, but involved hundreds of folks from housing counseling and legal services programs across the State who met with their legislators, made calls and more. Over eighty advocates showed up for the campaign’s main lobby day, despite a major snow storm the eve before. Legislators were given materials about the foreclosure prevention services network, along with a key with a blue heart tag bearing the number of delinquencies and foreclosures in the counties the legislator serves. Because every heart needs a home.
Prior to HOPP, the State was providing foreclosure prevention funding through New York State Homes and Community Renewal (then called the Division of Housing and Community Renewal). The program transferred to the OAG after he agreed to take over funding with settlement funds he received in early 2012. The anticipation has always been that the program would eventually return to HCR. The OAG’s offer to continue funding to the end of the fiscal year was a welcomed surprise to advocates, pushing the end date of HOPP off for six months. But, unfortunately, the crisis will still not be over by then, and the services provided by housing counselors and legal services attorneys will continue to be necessary to implement the strong consumer protections New York State has instilled, such as mandatory settlement conferences and obligatory referrals to services through notices and the Consumer Bill of Rights. Further funding from the state will be needed in next year’s budget to keep these services going, and New Yorkers in their homes.