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Foreclosure Prevention Seminar Offers Free Information for Residents

Saladino Said Goal Was to Promote Help, Guidance and Counseling

In a home foreclosure prevention education seminar on Thursday evening, May 15 at the Farmingdale Library, Assemblyman Joseph S. Saladino’s goal was to promote the fact that free help, guidance, and counseling are available for those who feel they are on the brink of foreclosure or in foreclosure of their homes.

“The purpose of the event was to protect the public who are struggling with high interest mortgage payments and increasing property taxes,” said Saldino. “I have encouraged interested residents to attend this meeting to get assistance from not-for-profit and government agencies. There is free help available to them, and I am working to provide that help so residents do not succumb to profit-driven firms who have been calling the public and charging for their services.”

Saladino organized the seminar due to the rising number of foreclosures on Long Island. In 2008, there were 50,032 foreclosures filed in New York State. On Long Island, there has been a 17 percent jump in filings from a year ago and nearly a 29 percent increase in April 2009 compared to March 2009. In Nassau County alone, 537 new foreclosure cases were opened last month, compared to 440 new cases in March 2009 and 398 new cases in April 2008.

“The foreclosure problem is tremendous,” said Saladino. “Nassau and Suffolk counties have the highest percentage in New York State. In many cases, it is no fault of the homeowner; it is due to the escalating property taxes. We could see property taxes double every seven to ten years. It’s not sustainable.”

More than a dozen residents gathered in the library’s meeting room to listen to Michelle DiBenedetto, director of public outreach for the Long Island Housing Partnership and Jacki Rogoff and Elli Hecht, co-executive directors for New York Mortgage Advocates. Assemblyman Saladino sat with the panel and moderated the discussion as they described different options available and provided information on experts who will counsel residents at the meeting and in private.

DiBenedetto explained how her group employs HUD-certified mortgage counselors to work with homeowners one-on-one before they face foreclosure. “We offer a personal service,” she said. “Not everyone is the same. By working with us, we can save you time. We know exactly who to contact; that’s our expertise. We estimate that 6.5 million people will be affected by foreclosure by 2012, or one out of six; that’s a huge impact.”

Rogoff and Hecht enlightened the crowd by explaining the new mandatory settlement conferences in residential foreclosure actions that New York State Banking Department is offering. These settlement conferences are held between the homeowner and the bank in front of a judge to see if they can reach a mutually agreeable resolution, which may include payment schedules or modifications to the loan.

“The law requires a 90-day timeline for foreclosures,” said Hecht. “This gives you time as the homeowner to be pro-active and find ways to fix the problem before you lose your home. We, at New York Mortgage Advocates, offer free help.”

Added Rogoff, “Banks are required by law to give you those 90 days. Demand that you want a mandatory settlement conference and get a bank officer to sit down with you.”

One audience member asked why banks that took TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) funds from the government aren’t more willing to work with homeowners who have lost their jobs or are unable to pay their mortgage payments. Rogoff said that they do have to help homeowners.

“If a bank took TARP funds, it is in their contract that they have to work with homeowners who are in trouble with their mortgage. If they won’t, call HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) for assistance,” he said.

While the recession is taking its toll with lost jobs and income, Saladino is also concerned about escalating high property taxes on Long Island. “Even if you get your mortgage payments under control, you still have to pay the property taxes, which in some areas are double-digit. These payments cannot be lowered or reduced. Everyone needs to get involved in politics to let our concerns be heard in Albany about these burdensome taxes. The new budget in Albany is one of the worst that I’ve ever seen and it is loaded with new taxes,” he said.

Saladino added, “There are combinations of factors that push residents into foreclosure. I am hoping people will work with these counselors and assistance groups before foreclosure ruins their finances and takes their home. Yes, these are tough times, but together we will work to avoid the pitfalls of a declining economy and keep alive the American dream of homeownership.”

For further information, contact the Long Island Housing Partnership, Michelle DiBenedetto at 631-435-4710, ext. 326 or www.lihp.org; and Jacki Rogoff and Elli Hecht of New York Mortgage Advocates at 516-374-4564 or www.mortgageadvocates.org.