2007-12-28 / Community

Comptroller: 20 Locals Seek Subprime Help

As the subprime crisis continues to escalate across the nation, New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr. has announced that nearly 2,350 individuals and families have called his Foreclosure Prevention Helpline to ask for help to avoid losing their homes.

According to Kristen McMahon, a spokesperson for Thompson, 322 of those who seek help are from Queens and 20 of those who are in danger of losing their home are from the Rockaway peninsula.

"It's extremely sad that at a time of year when people should be enjoying the holidays with family and friends they are instead fearing the loss of their homes," Thompson said. "This month, we have continued to hear so many of their stories, as they make difficult choices about which bills to pay, and often have had to forgo giving gifts so they can hold onto their homes."

The worsening foreclosure crisis is substantially impacting the New York City area, with several neighborhoods being severely affected. Thompson has said that approximately 15,000 families in the city could be at risk of losing their homes by the end of this year, and experts predict this number will grow dramatically in 2008. Last week, RealtyTrac reported that 2,848 city households filed foreclosure documents in November, with 1,338 in Queens (a 55 percent increase from November 2006).

Thompson's Foreclosure Prevention Helpline - at (212) 669-4600 - has received substantially steeper numbers of calls from Queens than any other borough (a number of calls have come from outside of New York City, and even as far away as Florida.). Many of the callers simply require basic information to assist, while more than 1,000 have turned into cases that the Comptroller's office regularly monitors. Of those cases, 765 are from New York City.

The breakdown of the current number of active cases shows Queens, with 322 cases, 42.09 percent citywide, as being hit the hardest.

"As we enter this new year, we must all resolve to work together to help our neighbors in need," Thompson said. "These foreclosures not only will close the doors of opportunity for countless New Yorkers, but will adversely impact our neighborhoods as a whole."

During the course of this year, Thompson has unveiled a multifaceted effort to combat the crisis. It all began on April 26, when he launched the Helpline. The Helpline links callers with United States Department of Housing and Urban Development certified counselors in their specific neighborhoods. Members of the Comptroller's Community Action Center have received in-depth training on how to handle foreclosure cases, and monitor each case to ensure help is provided.

Often, Thompson said, many callers indicate that they initially entered into Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM) loans with low initial payments and manageable monthly payments. When the interest rate and monthly payment changes take effect, usually within two years, the ARM interest rate can increase drastically and continue to climb by more than one percent and up to a maximum of 16.100% throughout the terms of the loans in some instances. As a result, monthly payments balloon hundreds of dollars, costing thousands of dollars more each year.

Additionally, the Comptroller has been holding a series of Banking Days open to the public in each borough. Two were held in Harlem in May and at Hostos Community College in the Bronx in September. The next one is expected to be in Queens early next year. At the events, Comptroller's staff provide information to improve financial literacy and assist New Yorkers with foreclosure questions.

The Comptroller launched the citywide "Save Our Homes" initiatives. Through this initiative, Thompson's office is working with labor, clergy and neighborhood organizations to highlight the crisis and offer assistance to New Yorkers. Thompson has since been regularly visiting religious institutions to talk about the issue and distribute thousands of guides.

"We will continue this fight," Thompson said. "This prevention guide identifies ways to prevent foreclosure and lists vital resources for people in their neighborhoods, in the city, and in the state. There is an urgent need for this crisis to be rapidly addressed at many levels, because it affects every one of us, if not a family member than a friend or a neighbor."

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