Homeowners who have missed out on COVID-19 emergency assistance are awaiting assistance
Homeowners who have missed out on COVID-19 emergency assistance are awaiting assistance

Homeowners who have missed out on COVID-19 emergency assistance are awaiting assistance

Veronica Maxwell loves to show off her home in northwest Rochester.

Maxwell, a single mother, bought a screened duplex in 2003 and renovated it into a single-family home. She has two living rooms, both with chic furniture, glittering centerpieces and wall-to-wall decor.

And the hairdresser works from home in a basement salon that is as decorative as the rest of her home.

Like many other small business owners, however, she has dealt with a less than beautiful situation. She said she has struggled to stay afloat during the pandemic and her biggest insecurity has been keeping pace with housing costs.

“All the bills just fall and you’ve paid one, the other for the debt. So it’s just really, really hard,” Maxwell said.

She lived on unemployment benefits and received a small loan for personal paycheck protection, but she was not approved for other benefits she applied for. Maxwell currently owes over $ 6,000 in back property tax and hopes a new government assistance program, the Homeowner Assistance Fund, will get her out of the red.

“I made the application. The paper went through and we’re waiting to see what comes,” Maxwell said.

The state’s program is a half-billion-dollar investment made through the U.S. rescue plan to help thousands stay in their homes.

Homeowners earning equal to or less than 100% of the area’s median income can apply. If approved, the funds can be used to pay off mortgages, consumption bills, property taxes and other housing expenses. Applications opened in January, but planning for the rollout of the program started almost a year ago.

The program is modeled after the Hardest Hit Fund, an emergency aid program for homeowners affected by the housing crisis in 2008. Over the years, that fund has been criticized for not reaching enough homeowners, but with this new program, there is a greater effort to ensure that people who need the money the most have access.

“We wanted to make sure we came to communities that were disproportionately affected by COVID,” said Dina Levy, senior vice president of the Office of Community Renewal, the state agency that runs the program. “And also as has historically been disproportionately affected whenever there is an economic crisis, which is largely colored communities.”

Levy said about 60% of applicants so far are colored, and they have followed applications daily to measure their goal-seeking reach.

Despite foreclosures are on theirs lowest in the last quarter of 2021, when the foreclosure moratorium was still in force, crime, including loans in active indulgence, had more than doubled since before the pandemic.

Community organizations like PathStone and the Empire Justice Center act as intermediaries between the state and homeowners in the Rochester area. Both organizations have helped homeowners navigate their options through the pandemic.

Mary Leo, CEO of PathStones Housing Council, said banks and the foreclosure moratorium provided short-term plans to prevent people from losing their homes. Still, these plans have not diminished stress for homeowners.

“Very few have actually lost their homes, but they are all very worried about what their next move will be,” Leo said.

These next steps include renegotiating with the banks to mitigate the loss. Structured in the program is a partnership with the State Attorney’s General Office to help talk to mortgage lenders on behalf of homeowners.

Levy understands how important mitigation strategies are to help stabilize homeowners. She worked at the National Mortgage Settlement as an adviser to New York’s Attorney General in 2012.

She said the recent housing crisis was different from the current one and is one that she hopes can lead to a faster recovery.

PathStone has already helped over 100 families apply for help and will continue until the application window closes on Friday. From Saturday, interested homeowners will be on the waiting list.

That government reports About 26,000 people have applied for help, which has a ceiling of $ 50,000 per year. household. Funds are not guaranteed and many applicants are still waiting to hear if they will be approved.

Levy said applications continue to roll in daily and it will take time to ensure they are processed properly.

“I wish it could happen as fast as people want it to,” Levy said, “but it takes time and we have to follow the process.”

Maxwell applied in early January and is still waiting to hear if she gets any money at all. She said she is not ready to quit yet.

“I’m gotten too far to give up right now. I’m not giving up. I just want to hear what they have to say,” Maxwell said.


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