SCHENECTADY — The pandemic-era moratorium on mortgage foreclosures has expired, prompting Schenectady housing and neighborhood organization BCNI to sound the alert about grants of up to $50,000 available for struggling homeowners.
The freeze on foreclosures against homeowners behind on monthly mortgage payments was implemented for the same reason as the moratorium on evictions of tenants who were behind on their rent: to prevent a housing crisis from developing alongside the public health crisis affecting much of the state and nation.
As they delayed crises for occupants, however, the dual moratoria created problems for lenders and for landlords, particularly small landlords. In September 2021, both freezes were extended to Jan. 15, 2022. They were not extended again.
Aiding people facing a housing crisis has long been one of the core missions for Better Community Neighborhoods Inc.
CEO Jennica Huff said the Homeowner Assistance Fund is an ideal tool for the purpose.
New York got $540 million of a $10 billion federal allocation to prevent foreclosure or utility cutoffs. But it’s being distributed statewide, not regionally, and it’s first-come, first-served, so BCNI is trying to get the word out. Grants can be as much as $50,000.
“So it’s a significant resource but it’s very very limited,” Huff said. “It’s imperative people get into one of the 70-plus counseling agencies in the state.”
BCNI is the only HUD-certified housing counseling agency in the city, Huff said. It has assigned four counselors to the HAF process since the application portal opened on Jan. 3.
BCNI Housing Counseling Program Manager Alexandria Carver said she hasn’t received as many HAF applications as she expected.
Perhaps they were waiting for the foreclosure moratorium to end, or they are unaware of the program, or they are aware but intimidated, she said.
“I don’t know if people don’t know it even exists,” she said, or “if people are disqualifying themselves before they even apply.”
“The process is fairly easy and something that you can get through in roughly 15 to 20 minutes,” Carver said.
All that’s needed is a mortgage statement and photo ID.
“New York state has made it that easy,” she said.
Through the end of the second week of applications, BCNI has seen a range of applicants — young families and empty-nesters alike.
Many are people whose income or money-management problems go back years, for whom the COVID crisis became a tipping point.
Using pending tax foreclosure lists, BCNI sent out notices about the Housing Assistance Fund to 1,053 homeowners.
“We’ve gotten a few calls from our mailers, so I guess our efforts are not in vain, but we wish people would move,” Carver said. “The seniors are not coming like I hoped they would.”
The first applicant who gained conditional approval for HAF with BCNI’s help was a Scotia woman who lost her job and fell months behind on her mortgage payments.
“I was laid off March of 2021 and I was fortunate enough to have severance for a few months,” she said.
By October, the money was tight and something had to give.
The woman, who asked not to be identified, said: “I didn’t think I would be unemployed this long. I’ve exhausted my unemployment benefits at this point.”
A complicating factor is the unavailability of child care. She’s a single mother of an elementary school student and doesn’t want her child home alone, but she can’t find after-school care and she hasn’t found a good job that will let her work from home.
Another complicating factor for this Scotia homeowner: She bought and repaired an abandoned home with a SONYMA mortgage, which she called more rigid than most.
The HAF approval she received on Jan. 11 is conditional. She must show that she’s exhausted all other options before she gets a grant.
“So I’m still in limbo as to what will be awarded if anything will be awarded.”
She said her lender has been tough to work with but BCNI has been helping her since well before HAF became available.
“As far as losing my home I haven’t let it stress me at this point,” she added.