The end of New York State’s legislative session is always an action-packed time, and this year did not disappoint, with lawmakers working into the early hours of Saturday morning on June 17, while advocates labored to keep New York’s housing needs on the agenda. Ultimately, the final results include several victories and one major defeat: While homeowners and their advocates secured hard-fought solutions for “zombie” properties and streamlining the foreclosure process, the lack of a budget agreement on $2 billion in funding for long-promised housing programs is a grave disappointment. Here are how our priorities turned out.
- Community Restoration Fund: Legislation establishing the New York State Community Restoration Fund passed the Senate and Assembly. The Fund will play a vital role in helping communities statewide to recover from the foreclosure crisis. Administered by the State of New York Mortgage Agency, it will purchase mortgage notes of homeowners at risk of foreclosure, and work with homeowners to keep them in their home whenever possible. It will also be able to acquire and renovate foreclosed and abandoned properties, redeveloping them as affordable housing. This is a major victory for homeowners, and represents years of advocacy at the state level. A huge thank you to Assembly Member Weinstein and Senator Savino for introducing this legislation, as well as to Senator Klein’s office for their determined advocacy.
- Zombie Properties: In another major victory for communities affected by the foreclosure crisis, the Legislature adopted new requirements for tackling “zombie” properties as part of a package of foreclosure reforms contained within the end-of-session “Big Ugly” legislation. “Zombies” are abandoned homes that are stuck in the foreclosure process, rapidly deteriorating with no one responsible for their upkeep. While banks are responsible for maintaining properties following a foreclosure, zombie properties have remained in limbo. Fortunately, the zombie legislation fixes this problem by requiring banks and servicers to maintain vacant and abandoned properties prior to foreclosure. It builds on a previous agreement with mortgage servicers made by the New York Department of Financial Services. State Senator Klein and State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman have also served as strong advocates on this issue.
- Improvements to the foreclosure process: A number of other key improvements were included within the “Big Ugly” to better help New York homeowners at risk of losing their homes due to foreclosure. This includes changes to the State settlement conference process that will provide homeowners with the right to submit an answer to foreclosure actions brought against them up to 30 days after their first settlement conference. The legislation will also improve the notice homeowners receive when foreclosure proceedings begin, providing better information to homeowners about their rights and where to seek help.
- Bill of Rights for homeowners: Finally, the legislation calls on the New York Department of Financial Services to publish a Consumer Bill of Rights, detailing the rights and responsibilities of the plaintiff and the defendant in a foreclosure proceeding. This is to be developed in consultation with all stakeholders, and, as homeowner advocates, we look forward to working with DFS to ensure that the resulting Bill of Rights makes a strong stand for the fair treatment of homeowners seeking to avoid foreclosure.
- No funding for CRF or homeownership programs through the MOU: While we are thrilled with the above legislative reforms, the lack of an agreement on funding for the $2 billion affordable housing plan is a major disappointment. This funding was agreed upon as part of the State budget negotiations earlier this year, with the provision that the Governor, Assembly Speaker, and Senate Majority Leader would come to an agreement on the specifics of the plan, to be finalized in a Memorandum of Understanding. Unfortunately, the session ended without this agreement, though $150 million in new funding was committed for 1,200 units of supportive housing, and other funding priorities continue to be negotiated. Ultimately, we hope to see an additional funding agreement with an initial investment of $30 million for the newly-established Community Restoration Fund so that it is able to live up to its promise.
While there is significantly more work to be done on the budget front, the legislative session achieved real results for New Yorkers at risk of foreclosure and for the communities they live in. A huge congratulations to our partners in advocacy, particularly New Yorkers for Responsible Lending and the Empire Justice Center.