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Wave of Foreclosures Expected in Sandy-Affected Areas, Advocates Warn

By Amy Zimmer | October 29, 2013 8:59am
 Marva Kerwin is still unable to move back into her home in the Far Rockaways due to damages from Storm Sandy and bad contractors.
Storm Sandy - Marva Kerwin
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ROCKAWAYS — Some 26 families at Rockaway's Belle Shore Condominiums haven't been able to return to their first-floor homes in the luxury beachfront complex since Hurricane Sandy hit — even though renovations on several of them are almost finished. 

Repairs must be paid for through the condo board, but it ran out of money months ago, stalling the whole process, residents said.  At least three of the homes are now facing foreclosure. Others struggle to keep up with their mortgages and common charges, while also paying rent for temporary lodging.

"We can't afford to do this much longer, not even another month," said Marva Kerwin, 36, who bought her 1,800-square-foot house at Belle Shore in 2010 for $500,000 and is paying $1,700 a month for a rental place nearby so her 5-year-old daughter can stay in her school.

 Real estate in the Far Rockaways.
Far Rockaways Real Estate
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Housing advocates and attorneys are bracing for a wave of foreclosures to hit Sandy-affected areas where owners continue to face a range of problems. Many are still shelling out money for repairs and may have fallen prey to contractor fraud, resulting in delays and extra expenses. Homeowners unable to move back are burdened by rental costs or can't rent out their income-producing units that help them defray mortgage payments.

Also, as loan forbearances come due, many families may find themselves defaulting, lawyers warn.

Most banks gave homeowners a three-month reprieve after the storm and then extended mortgage forbearances another three months. But having to pay a lump sum of six months worth of payments is difficult for many, who then might try to modify their loans — a process that could take six to 12 months to process — advocates said.

To complicate matters, many residents lost jobs post-Sandy or had to use up savings for renovations, making loan modifications more difficult.

"Processing the [loan modification] applications is a long process, and while [owners] are waiting for that they're falling further behind, and they can't pay their mortgage," said Courina Yulisa, of the Center for NYC Neighborhoods, which offers free housing counseling and legal services through a network of local groups.

Also, many of the areas hit by Sandy, such as the Rockaways and Carnarsie, were already reeling from the foreclosure crisis before the storm.

"No client only has a foreclosure problem or contractor problem or insurance problem," said Keiko Cervantes-Ospina, a lawyer with the New York Legal Assistance Group, which also provides free legal services.

"The level of complexity of their cases has definitely increased," she said. "It's just a vicious cycle, and a year later you can imagine how frustrated people are because it's overwhelming. A lot of our clients are being diagnosed with depression," she added. "They feel taken advantage of and helpless."

NYLAG's legal team helping Sandy victims was intended to be temporary. But a year later, 25 staffers are still busy trying to extend forbearances, lock in loan modifications, or fight for FEMA grants, insurance payments or other funds, like the city's Build it Back program, which offers assistance for rebuilding.

Sandra McLean, a retired assistant principal, who lives at Arverne by the Sea, tapped out her savings on $35,000 worth of shoddy repairs and hotel stays. McLean, who will soon get a kidney transplant, needed to stay near her dialysis center in Brooklyn, but was unable to find a hotel there that would accept her FEMA vouchers.

"I just ran out of money," said McLean, 64, who supports her disabled sister, her son and his four children, ranging in age from 1 to 7.

McLean, who has two mortgages on her home, added: "I couldn’t pay that and live, too."

Kerwin is also quickly running out of funds. She asked her condo board if she could foot the bill for the rest of her unit's renovations — which are 95 percent done — but they rejected the offer.

Condo board president Magoolaghan said the development, which owes its contractor $400,000, was just approved for a $2 million loan from the Small Business Administration. He estimated that it would take roughly six weeks to finish the renovations, but work can't resume until the loan comes through, and he didn't know when the development would get the money.

"I have good days and bad days," said Kerwin, an executive assistant now unemployed because she was a "basket case" after the storm. "Yesterday I just started to cry. Every day my daughter asks 'When are we going back to the home?'"

Where Sandy victims can get help:

- Those having trouble paying mortgages or with loan modifications can reach the Center for NYC Neighborhoods through 311 or directly at 646-786-0888.

- The city's Build it Back program is designed to assist homeowners, landlords and tenants in the five boroughs whose homes and properties were damaged by Sandy. For instance, it can provide homeowners with funding for repairs if there's a gap between flood insurance and FEMA money, advocates explained.  The deadline for applying was extended to Oct. 31.

- The city Health Department's Project Hope offers free, confidential crisis counseling services to help New Yorkers cope with the effects of Hurricane Sandy. Project Hope counseling sessions are available to anyone by calling 1-800-LIFENET.