A report issued last week reasserted that Queens continues to get hit hard by the housing crunch, and that Jamaica continues to get hit harder than anywhere else in the borough.
But Daniel George doesn’t need the ugly statistics. He deals with the people behind them every day.
“This is a middle class community, a working class community,” said George, a foreclosure services counselor with Neighborhood Housing Services of Jamaica, Inc. “These are the people who get hit hardest by the economy.”
The report, issued by RealtyTrac, said 4,752 homes in Queens are in foreclosure, with 34 going into foreclosure in June in Jamaica.
South Ozone Park, the next highest, had 22, going toforeclosure in June. And while the report says foreclosures are down nationwide for the first six months of 2011, it may only be due to processing delays that could actually prolong the housing crunch.
George spoke Monday at a press conference at the office of U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks, (D-Jamaica), who is urging homeowners to file for a federal foreclosure relief program before Friday’s deadline. Meeks was joined by Adolfo Carrion Jr., the former Bronx Borough president who now serves as regional administrator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and is director of the White House Office on Urban Policy.
“Queens, Nassau and Suffolk Counties and Buffalo are ground zero for foreclosures in New York State,” Carrion said. “And Jamaica is ground zero in Queens.”
Meeks, Carrion and George said that comes from a mix of reasons, including cuts and layoffs in New York’s financial sector, reduction in government jobs and people who have severe medical conditions.
They are encouraging people who are facing foreclosure to apply by Friday for the federal Emergency Homeowners’ Loan Program, which could provide no-interest loans to about 2,700 New Yorkers who face losing their homes.
Typical is Yolanda Sierra-Peralte, who has owned her Jackson Heights home for four years. Speaking through an interpreter at Meeks’ press conference, she said she got eight months behind on her mortgage after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2010. She applied for modification of her loan in February, and still is waiting for a determination from her lender. Meeks and Carrion said the EHLP loans are designed for people who are missing mortgage payments through no fault of their own, such as downsizing from work or serious illness. They also must meet income guidelines.
Sierra-Peralte will learn if she qualifies for the EHLP program in September. Meeks said information on the program still is available at findEHLP.org; by calling his Jamaica office at (718) 725-6000; or by visiting in person at 153-01 Jamaica Ave.
George and Sierra-Peralte said people should not be ashamed to apply for relief, or to seek counseling from organizations such as his.
“The process of loan modification can be difficult to handle alone,” George said.
Meeks indicated that even if you don’t qualify for this program, there are other resources available. “Don’t wait. Call 311 and say ‘I need help,’” he said.
He and Carrion also warned people to seek reputable organizations.
“This program is free,” Carrion said. “(But) there are also bottom-feeders out there looking to take advantage of people.”
Another report issued last week by the Real Estate Board of New York had decidedly lukewarm news from other sectors of the Queens housing market.
While home values and sales increased throughout the city as a whole in the second quarter, the REBNY report said the average sales price in Queens declined less than one percent to $386,000. The average sale price of a one- to three-family house fell to $459,999, a one percent drop from last year. The price of apartments increased less than one percent to $275,000, while the price of condominium units in the borough increased five percent.
Michael Slattery, vice president of NYREB, did not have exact sales or dollar figures for Queens, but said in general the borough benefits from a large number of single-family houses and a diversified market.
“I think sales activity in areas that are traditionally strong, such as Flushing and Rego Park, has tended to pick up faster,” Slattery said.
In information issued last week from the City Comptroller’s Office, 4,290 properties in Queens will be among more than 17,500 citywide listed in a tax lien sale scheduled for Aug. 1 The last sale, in July 2010, listed only 4,736.