The Tri-City mayors and a representative from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development pushed Monday for action on stalled legislation to help struggling homeowners and blighted communities.
Deputy HUD Secretary Maurice Jones said the number of foreclosure notices has been reduced nationally and home sales are starting to pick up, but there is more work to be done.
Having a large number of foreclosed properties in a community benefits no one, according to Jones, who met with the mayors of Schenectady, Albany and Troy, real estate brokers and lenders and other housing representatives at The College of Saint Rose.
Jones said one banker told him “we’re not in the business of owning homes. Foreclosures are not good for us either. We are in the business of making loans.”
The Responsible Homeowner Refinancing Act would allow homeowners who are current on their mortgages to refinance at lower interest rates, eliminate the cost of manual appraisals and remove barriers to competition among lenders.
The Expanding Refinance Opportunities Act allows families who have mortgages that are not backed by the government to take advantage of the same interest rates that apply to those with federally backed loans. The Rebuilding Equity Act and the Project Rebuild Act would have the government pay the closing costs of people willing to refinance their mortgage into a shorter-term loan.
Housing officials say the goal is to allow homeowners to build equity in their properties and encourage people to buy some of the vacant houses.
Jones acknowledged it is unlikely that any of the pieces of legislation backed by President Barack Obama would pass before the end of the year.
“This legislation that we’re talking about should have bipartisan support. This is about helping our homeowners,” he said.
However, none of the three bills has Republican co-sponsors, according to the website www.govtrack.us. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is listed as a co-sponsor of the Responsible Homeowner Refinancing Act.
The Expanding Refinance Opportunities Act is sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., but has no co-sponsors at all.
Still, the three Democratic mayors said the legislation is crucial to improving their communities. Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy said one of the keys to rebuilding communities is to renovate or remove blighted properties and turn them into owner-occupied housing.
McCarthy added that increased funding for neighborhood revitalization would be a big boost to his efforts to rehabilitate or demolish vacant houses. With interest rates at historic lows, it is a great time for people to buy a house, he said. “It becomes a good long-term value,” he said.
Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings agreed. “You stabilize your neighborhood with home ownership — not with absentee landlords and speculators,” Jennings said.
He added that it is critical for banks, real estate agents and the government to work together to solve the problem of urban blight. “It’s not just about money. It’s getting a plan together and using the money as efficiently and effectively as we can,” he said.
Troy Mayor Lou Rosamilia said he believes people would love to have the opportunity to own a home and be a part of the “American Dream.”
Jones said one of the challenges urban mayors face is “branding” their communities to encourage more people to live there.
McCarthy pointed out that city living offers advantages, including shorter commutes to work.
Ultimately, local officials are going to have to come up with answers, Jones said.
“We want to be a partner that adds value but the solution comes from right here.”