According to RealtyTrac, the California-based data firm, U.S. home foreclosures increased 11 percent this May after steadily declining for a five-month period, and while a promising June saw foreclosure rates once again decreasing, thousands of people face the grim reality of losing their homes every day.
“The Capital Region is definitely getting hit hard,” said Jessica Lennon, program director at the Legal Project in Albany. The Legal Project is a not-for-profit organization that offers “free and low cost legal services to the working poor, victims of domestic violence and other underserved individuals,” according to its website.
In the Capital Region, Lennon said, data from the New York State banking Department showed that 11,342 properties received a 90-day Notice of Intent to Foreclose from July 5, 2011, to July 5, 2012. In June 2012 alone, 1,514 properties in the area were delinquent.
The Legal Project’s Homeowner Protection Project, which is funded through the New York State Attorney General’s office, is geared towards helping “homeowners in danger of foreclosure, already in foreclosure and in settlement conferences,” Lennon said. “These are people who are at their wit’s end with trying to negotiate with banks and not being able to do anything.” Lennon added that foreclosure is a “specialized area” of law, and that the paperwork required by banks can intimidate many people.
Most of the stipulations require that paperwork be processed within a certain amount of time, but following the directions doesn’t always ensure a swift end to the process. “You have to send it to the bank, it gets there, they might need new paperwork, it takes time to review it, by that time the original paperwork is out of date, and they need you to resubmit it,” Lennon said. “People understandably get frustrated after five, six, or seven times.”
The program was implemented in 2012, and at that time Lennon said that the Legal Project was “initially seeing people who had predatory lending issues.” Now, she noted, clients have “pretty conventional mortgages but had medical illnesses, were laid off, or went through a divorce. We see everyday people with conventional mortgages but maybe who had devastating life events. These are relatable, everyday people.”
Michael DeBenedetti of Delmar was one of those people. A disabled veteran, DeBenedetti got behind in his mortgage payments, and said that he tried to reach out to Wells Fargo, his lender.
“They weren’t returning my calls, I left voice mails and e-mails,” he said. The timeline he was given to catch up was 30 days, and when he finally reached a bank representative, he said he was told, “Don’t worry about it.” Then there was silence.
“I thought I was going to be facing [foreclosure],” he recalled. “I was so sick, so frustrated, I was ready to just walk away.”
DeBenedetti heard about the Homeowner Protection Project at a local Veterans Administration Hospital. “Every time I called, they’d call back that day or within the hour,” he said of the staff at the Legal Project.
“He was represented by one of our staff attorneys who was able to negotiate with his lender, get the arrears paid off, and reinstate his mortgage, and allowed him to keep his home and avoid foreclosure,” said Lennon.
“I paid it all off in one lump sum,” DeBenedetti said. “I’m a month ahead now.”
Acting fast is key, according to Lennon. “They should reach out as soon as they realize they aren’t going to be able to make a mortgage payment, or be late,” she added. “The earlier they can get help, the better.”
But selecting the right help is also important. “Be aware of scams that are out there,” Lennon said. “A local client was dealing with a Florida lawyer’s office, who told her don’t make a mortgage payment, pay it here.” After the money was sent, it turned out that the lawyer’s office no longer existed. Neither did the client’s money.
The Legal Project has two staff attorneys and a paralegal dedicated to the Homeowner Protection Project. “We just want homeowners to know that there is help out there and the shouldn’t feel embarrassed or ashamed,” Lennon said.
Find more information on The Legal Project‘s programs on Facebook, or contact Tia Sullivan Hock at the Legal Project (518-435-1770).