By Akiko Matsuda
Jacqueline Borrero of Yonkers is breathing a sigh of relief this week as she’s about to finalize a loan modification for her family home, allowing her to avoid the impending foreclosure.
“We are happy that our home was saved,” said Borrero, 51, of Yonkers, who bought the two-family home on Halley Street with her brother and her mother more than 20 years ago. “We’re just going to keep working hard to pay off the mortgage.”
The family purchased the two-story house, thinking that they could comfortably afford it with three incomes. But a series of events, including her brother’s and her own illnesses, made it difficult to keep up with the mortgage payments, Borrero said.
She sought help from Community Housing Innovations, a housing nonprofit based in White Plains and Long Island, which guided her through the federal Home Affordable Modification Program. The program, known as HAMP, aims to offer homeowners who are at risk of foreclosure reduced monthly mortgage payments by working with mortgage servicers through the court system. It includes incentives for homeowners, servicers and investors to encourage successful mortgage modifications.
The federal program — which helped millions of homeowners nationwide since 2009 — is set to expire at the end of December. Housing advocates in the Lower Hudson Valley are encouraging struggling homeowners to take advantage while it lasts.
“It’s a good program. It’s unfortunate that it’s ending,” said Stephanie Rojas, housing director for the Rockland Housing Action Coalition. “We’re sending out mailing, trying to get everyone in before the end day. … I’m hoping everyone (is) getting in on time, but I’m not sure that they are.”
Rojas said that every year since the program’s inception, her organization has assisted about 500 homeowners facing foreclosures.
The foreclosure crisis that began during the recession still persists in the Lower Hudson Valley, particularly in Rockland and Putnam counties. Foreclosure rates in October were one in every 773 units in Rockland and one in every 724 in Putnam, according to RealtyTrac, a real estate information company. In Westchester, the rate was one in every 1,376. The national rate was one in every 1,258 units.
The federal program does not guarantee a loan modification, but with the help of certified housing counseling agencies, such as Community Housing Innovations and Rockland Housing Action Coalition, the chance of getting reduced rates would be maximized, said Andrea Haughton, director of homeownership with the Community Housing Innovations. The agency staff serves as a liaison between the servicer, the homeowner and the court system, she said.
“We walk through the entire process and make sure that the application is submitted correctly and documents are submitted. We also accompany them to court to make sure that all the information they need to receive modification is submitted and being processed smoothly,” she said.
Christopher Pinto, 60, of White Plains, said his monthly mortgage payment was reduced by $1,100 after he got his mortgage modified through the HAMP.
“I tried on my own, and it didn’t work,” Pinto said, recalling his independent mortgage modification effort following his loss of a well-paying administrative job in the wake of recession. “A friend of mine directed me to Community Hosing Innovations here in White Plains. They were very helpful in the process. … I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them.”
The HAMP is available for homeowners who are struggling to make mortgage payments due to financial hardship but still have the ability to make payments if their loan is modified. Homeowners should contact certified nonprofits for consultation as soon as possible even when they are unsure whether they are eligible for the program, Rojas said.
“Everything we do is free of charge,” Rojas said, adding that she wanted people to be wary of foreclosure rescue scams. “You don’t have to pay for assistance. Paying for assistance is not going to get you a better assistance.”
Borrero said she was thankful that she and her family, including her 8-year-old daughter Mariah, can celebrate this holiday season without worrying about losing their home.
“I think it’s an excellent program that allows an opportunity for a normal family who works hard and tries to maintain a home. It gives them an opportunity for a fair and reasonable rate that they can afford,” Borrero said. “It helped my family, and hopefully, many other families.”
How to contact
Community Housing Innovations (//communityhousing.org/): 914-683-1010
Rockland Housing Action Coalition (//rhachomes.org/): 845-708-5799 Ext. 202