2010-02-25 / From The Mayor...

FROM THE MAYOR’S DESK ...

Water Debt Assistance Program Easing Burden For Homeowners

So far, New York City has been spared the wave of home foreclosures that has devastated many other parts of the country during this recession – and the legal and financial counseling we’ve helped provide to distressed homeowners for well over a year has played a key role in that. But foreclosures are definitely on the rise in parts of our city like Central Brooklyn and Southeast Queens. That’s causing a lot of suffering for hard-working families who are losing their homes. And that, in turn, can threaten the property values and quality of life for everyone in those neighborhoods.

So it’s in everyone’s interest to help struggling New Yorkers hang onto their homes. In my State of the City speech last month, I pledged to mount the most ambitious home foreclosure prevention effort of any city in the nation. And last Monday, we rolled out the first element of that plan, a water debt assistance program – an innovative new idea from the new Commissioner of our Department of Environmental Protection.

All too often, homeowners who fall behind on their mortgage payments also fall very far behind on their water and sewer bills. Normally, we collect on water debts owed by owners of two- and threeunit homes by putting liens – or legal claims – on their property. In more than 85 percent of cases, just the mere threat of a lien sale has been enough to encourage homeowners to settle their delinquent accounts before any legal action is ever taken.

But these are not normal times. Far from it. And the last thing we want to do is make the foreclosure crisis worse.

So, as part of our water debt assistance program, we are going to defer immediate efforts to collect debts from about 2,000 two- and three-family unit homeowners who are far behind on their payments, and who are late on their mortgage payments. In most cases, they’re in the still-early stages of the foreclosure process. So by putting a temporary freeze on their water and sewer debts, and not assessing any interest on the unpaid debts, we’re giving them a financial lifeline.

Now let me be clear: We are not eliminating their obligations – or passing the buck to other homeowners. Everyone participating in our program must commit to paying back their debts in full whenever their homes are sold or refinanced. They also will still be responsible for staying current on their water bills going forward.

But what our program will do is immediately ease some of the pressure for New Yorkers in financial distress. And we think that in most cases, that will then help them get back on their feet and stay in their homes – and will help keep New York City’s neighborhoods strong, as well.

For more information and to find out if you’re eligible for the program, call 311.

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