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Queens Chronicle

Foreclosure picture still grim in Queens

Jamaica remains hardest hit in a borough that has been hit hard

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Posted: Thursday, February 2, 2012 12:00 pm | Updated: 8:24 am, Mon Feb 27, 2012.

An industry study for the month of December 2011 by the website RealtyTrac.com found that Queens continues to be hurt by the ongoing home mortgage foreclosure crisis, and that Jamaica remains ground zero for the borough.

City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-Jamaica) said in a recent telephone interview that he hadn’t read the study.

He didn’t need to.

“It’s accurate,” Comrie said. “And in Jamaica the numbers are still going up. People are still struggling to maintain their loan payments.”

The figures, available on interactive maps on the company’s web site, list 5,776 foreclosures in Queens for the month.

Jamaica had 1,366 — or 23.7 percent.

The next closest area is Flushing with 1,013, or 17.5 percent.

Other areas with high numbers include Far Rockaway (239), Sunnyside (229), Floral Park (203), Queens Village (187), Long Island City (185), South Ozone Park (152), Forest Hills (136), Springfield Gardens (133), St. Albans (111), Ozone Park (109), and Woodhaven (102).

Many of the people contacting Comrie’s office bought houses during the last housing boom with mortgages having large balloon payments after a certain period.

Some people lost jobs or did not get salary increases they had counted on regularly, causing them to fall behind on their payments.

“The combination is just devastating,” he said.

The councilman on Monday was particularly focused on the concerns of affected homeowners.

Earlier that afternoon, he and Councilman Al Vann (D-Brooklyn) called on Gov. Cuomo to restore funding for the state’s Foreclosure Prevention Services Program.

The fund helps people facing foreclosure secure legal advice and representation during the process.

Comrie said Cuomo’s recently released budget proposal for fiscal year 2012-13 eliminates the line item.

“We feel the governor needs to reverse that and restore money to a critical program,” he said. “It will make sure some homeowners still have a free option, make sure they can still stay in their homes.”

Citing court records, the councilmen said 67 percent of all city homeowners in foreclosure proceedings in 2011 were not represented by lawyers, up from 63 percent in 2010.

Comrie said restoring state funding is necessary to protect people who might otherwise need expensive attorneys, or fall prey to unscrupulous people offering little or no real help.

“People who are trying to save their homes from foreclosure can’t afford that,” he said.

In a joint statement issued with Comrie, Vann said he will introduce resolutions in the council calling for statewide reform of the foreclosure process.

Among “the dubious practices” Vann seeks to address are the so-called robo-signing of official documents by lenders, the filing of false paperwork and the initiation of foreclosure proceedings by parties with no legal standing to do so.

Comrie is confident that the Legislature will win restoration of funding for the foreclosure prevention program once it begins budget negotiations with the governor in the coming weeks.

Calls to the offices of Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Long Island) seeking comment were not returned.

Comrie also hopes the federal government would continue its efforts to ease the crisis, though he said he was not familiar with the contents of a 26-page proposal sent to Congress on Jan. 4 by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.

Bernanke’s ‘white paper’ suggests that Washington consider allowing banks and government entities that own foreclosed properties to offer them for rental when sale is not likely in the immediate future.

Bernanke does say that the proposal could have some trade-offs, including but not limited to more downward pressure on housing prices in the short term.

The district offices of Congressman Gregory Meeks (D-Queens) and U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) did not respond to calls seeking comment on the Bernanke proposal.

The Chronicle could not determine whether or not such a proposal could work within the city’s zoning regulations by Wednesday’s deadline.

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