Homeowners are preparing for the worst after the moratorium | The Riverdale Press

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By JOSEPH DE LA CRUZ

The signs that the world is starting to get back to normal in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic are a good thing, right? Maybe when it comes to eating out or going to the movies.

But there’s one aspect of pre-pandemic life that a growing number of homeowners would like to see eased for a little longer: foreclosures.

With the pandemic-era moratorium on foreclosures now a thing of the past, landlords and property owners are scrambling as banks are now free to begin collecting delinquent mortgages.

The economy is slowly rebounding, but many have yet to catch up with their threatened financial obligations. Like Glash Popović, a landlord who feels city and state authorities have forgotten about him.

“Not all landlords are sleepy landlords or real estate investors with no regard for their tenants,” Popović said. “A lot of us are still trying to pay our mortgage (and) pay the utility bills for water and sometimes heating. Some of us actually try to maintain the maintenance of our buildings, and it can be very expensive. Especially when you also live (in the building) too.

Popović owns a four-family apartment building in Pelham Bay. He worries that being forced to catch up on his mortgage will make it almost impossible to also shell out the property taxes he will also owe this year. And it doesn’t help that the narrative of the pandemic has been largely unfavorable to landowners and the hardships they have faced.

“When the pandemic started, all you heard were the reports of evictions,” Popović said. “Nobody ever mentioned the plight of the landlord, (especially) the small landlords and their struggles.”

Most of Popović’s tenants always paid their rent on time. But that was before the pandemic. Since the initial shutdown in 2020, many people have lost their jobs or had their wages reduced. This meant that many of his tenants had fallen behind on rent payments, while others were simply taking advantage of the fact that he could not force them to pay.

“I had a tenant who paid his rent and then tried to get it back from my super when he found out there was a moratorium on evictions,” Popović said. “Deferral is one thing, intentionally not paying is another.”

Some tenants have applied for and received assistance from the Emergency Rent Assistance Program. Others may have filed a complaint, but never heard back from the state.

But even with ERAP, those able to repay a substantial amount of rent would suddenly find themselves falling behind when the funds dried up. This left Popović unable to meet his own financial obligations – such as his mortgage.

Popović now hopes he qualifies for help from the Homeowners Relief Fund so he can avoid default and ultimately foreclosure. But again, the fund is designed more for families and not necessarily landlords – even if they live where they rent – so there’s a good chance Popović won’t even qualify.

“New York Home Community Renewal – which is the state housing agency that administers this program – is very concerned that this is a limited amount of funds, which means that there is no ‘There isn’t enough to cover all homeowners in need,’ said Jacob Inwald, foreclosure prevention. Director at Legal Services NYC. “They have structured the program in a way that they hope will bring help to those who need it most.

These funds are capped at $50,000, Inwald added, and even then they are earmarked for the poorest populations — a relatively small percentage of landlords his agency works with.

Still, Inwald says he has clients who don’t meet those requirements, but are still low- or moderate-income homeowners.

Even with a limited reach, the program is still good for those it can help, said Amanda Brown, benefits access program manager at BronxWorks.

“They can stay at home, and they don’t have to deal with predatory lending and high interest rates,” she said. “I really think it will benefit them.”

Governor Kathy Hochul announced last month that New York would administer some $539 million allocated by the US Treasury Department to help middle- and low-income families cope with lockdown due to pandemic hardship.

“We know that the economic pain of the pandemic has been felt disproportionately in rural communities, communities of color and immigrant communities,” Hochul said in a statement at the time. “This program is a demonstration of our commitment to putting the needs of New Yorkers in need at the heart of our work.

The state began accepting applications on January 3, on a first-come basis.

Those who receive the loan have up to five years to repay it without interest. However, they are prevented from leaving their home while the loan is in progress.

With the moratorium expired, Inward is concerned about the impact the foreclosures and evictions could have on efforts to help families.

“More money will be needed to settle individual homeowners’ arrears because once a lender initiates foreclosure action against a mortgage borrower, they immediately apply various charges such as property inspection fees, not to mention significant attorney’s fees,” Inwald said. “With the moratorium expiring, it will cost the program more to resolve individual homeowner cases and that will mean fewer homeowners will be helped.”

For Popović, the chances of him getting help already look slim.

“What am I going to do?” He asked. “Fortunately, I work in addition to owning the building. But will that be enough to save me from eventually losing the building? We will see.”

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