Clinic Begins To Stem Mortgage Mess
Despite the drop in house sales and the increase in foreclosures, there may be hope developing in Queens.
By Sasha Austrie
Lynette Velasco didn’t think that it could happen to her. She signed up for what she thought was a debt management program; instead, she was being swindled.
“My house was sold,” she said. “I didn’t even know the house was sold.”
Velasco was one of 247 homeowners who were victims of a national scam. For help, she turned to Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) and U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica). Help came in the form of a foreclosure prevention and intervention initiative, which would staunch the flow of the foreclosure crisis ravaging the neighborhoods of the 6th Congressional District.
Since the upheaval of the housing market, Queens has become the epicenter of the disaster, with Southeast Queens shouldering the brunt of the pain.
According to Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project, 340 Lis Pendens, or foreclosures, were filed from Jan. 5 to Jan. 30, with 155 coming against homes in Queens and 71 from southeast Queens.
“I’ve seen first-hand how the financial crisis has trickled down to from Wall Street to Main Street,” Meeks said. “With the assistance of the Consortium for Workers Foreclosure Prevention Clinic, numerous Southeast Queens families’ homes have been rescued from auction and foreclosure, keeping residents in their homes and stabilizing neighborhoods.”
Meeks, in conjunction with the Consortium for Workers Education and Money Match Corp., which provides financial advisors and attorneys for the clinic, launched the Congressman Gregory W. Meeks Consortium for Workers Education Foreclosure Prevention and Mitigation Clinic.
Since its initiation at the tail end of 2008, 153 clients have made use of the program. The clinic is open at noon every Wednesday at the congressman’s office at 153-01 Jamaica Ave.
“I’m getting the type of advice that I need,” Velasco said. Although her situation has yet to be rectified, Velasco said representatives of the program immediately went to work making calls on her behalf.
“They are good at maneuvering the system,” she said.
According to David Aviles, president of Money Match, 23 of the patrons who were in foreclosure or sales proceedings within three days had their homes saved from the auction block. He added that 80 home loans were being modified
According to Meeks, although the program was set up for the members of his district, he said his office has received calls from people outside his neighborhood and across the City.
“This should be in every district for people who are losing their homes,” Meeks said. “We are not limiting just to the 6th Congressional District.
Aviles said the program is expanding all over the City and is hoping to branch out statewide. Not only is the program growing, Aviles said, but financial literacy courses would be implemented in other local institutions. He said the classes are free, but wouldn’t be accredited.
“Financial literacy puts these people out of business,” Meeks said of unscrupulous lenders and scam artists.
The patrons of the program are wide ranging.
Lillian Mason, 71, who has three grandchildren living in her home, thought she signed up for a reverse mortgage.
“My house was sold, but the deal fell through,” Mason said. “I’m still in foreclosure and I still need help.”
Opal Edie, 54, had a 30-year adjustable-rate mortgage.
“It was going up every month,” she said. “I adjusted with the bank two times.”
Brenda and Alexander Parham, parents of 12 children, said they went into foreclosure and a real estate broker convinced them to transfer the deed to their house. The bank currently owns their house.
“I love Queens,” Alexander Parham said. “I don’t want to move nowhere else. I love my house; I want to stay in my house.”
He said that they are currently in recovery and the bank is willing to negotiate with them.
According to Meeks, Southeast Queens is rife with the opportunity to take advantage and target its neighborhoods.
“We have beautiful housing stock,” Meeks said. “We have great communities.”
He added that the district is a prime target for predatory lenders and scam artists because of easier victims, such as seniors, single women and families that have been trounced by the financial crisis.