Tuesday, October 11, 2011

New York Housing Counselors and Partners Strategize Next Stage of Helping Homeowners Facing Foreclosure

Darryl Towns, Commissioner/CEO
NYS Homes and Community Renewal

With funding for an extensive network of foreclosure counseling and legal services in New York set to expire in December, housing counselors and their partners throughout the state recently met to strategize about a path forward.

“By 2011, we thought the crisis would be done,” remarked Hilary Lamishaw, of the NYS Coalition for Excellence in Homeownership Education, as she opened the daylong conference. “We don’t know what the service delivery system will look like, but regardless, homeowners are going to have to be served,” Lamishaw added.

Housing counselors and their partners had been gathering at regional meetings leading up to the conference, discussing what might happen in their communities post-funding, sharing best practices and lessons learned.

The conference, sponsored by the NYS Coalition for Excellence in Homeownership Education, the Empire Justice Center and NeighborWorks America, with funds provided by New York State Homes and Community Renewal, provided an opportunity to hear about trends and models from throughout the country. The models included effective triage, on-line intakes, weekly webinars, and technologies such as Hope Loan Port, which have brought new efficiencies in service delivery and cost in other states. Faced with the loss of federal and state funding, Community Development Corporation of Long Island, a local NeighborWorks affiliate, is planning to hold group foreclosure intervention sessions.

Housing counselors weigh in on major topics that will serve as a starting point
for a statewide foreclosure prevention plan.

Lou Tisler, executive director of Neighborhood Housing Services of Cleveland, discussed the positive long-term impact Ohio Governor’s Foreclosure Prevention Task Force has had in giving the issue the political cachet needed to innovate.

Faith Schwartz with the Hope Now Alliance emphasized that it is important to embrace technology so that the work gets done.

Josh Zinner with the New York Community Economic Development Advocacy Project noted that although unemployment may be the immediate trigger now for delinquencies, underneath is often a sub-prime or predatory loan that makes the homeowner at increased risk.

The need for a fair and honest approach to principal reduction was another recurring theme as the audience considered what might really help mitigate foreclosure.

Conference participants developed a series of recommendations to serve as a start of a statewide plan of action, including strategies addressing policy, outreach, fee-for-service and funding, statewide collaboration, and improving the efficiency of counseling and legal issues. Plans are also under way for the development of uniform homeowner education materials that can be accessed from a single point of entry.

“We are facing similar issues in Philadelphia so that is why I came,” said Allison Hughes of the Homeownership Counseling Association of the Delaware Valley. “I thought that morale would be low, but everyone here is upbeat and focused, and the discussion has been great.”

“It was a strong collaboration between government, the courts, housing counselors, legal services, and elected officials in New York State that built an effective response to foreclosure over the last three years. Now that funds are scarce, we will need that collaboration more than ever as we chart a new path on behalf of New York’s homeowners,” said Deborah Boatright, NeighborWorks America Northeast regional director.