Showing posts with label Homes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Homes. Show all posts

December 27, 2017

And Now: Foreclosures for Puerto Rico's Homeowners } Anymore Paper Towels Donald?

LENDERS TO PUERTO Rican homeowners have kicked foreclosures into high gear in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, skirting local and federal borrower protections. According to attorneys and experts, lenders have ignored federal moratoria on foreclosures; placed notices of default in newspapers where they’re unlikely to be seen; sent files to homeowners in English rather than Spanish; and required residents to complete tasks that are borderline impossible without electrical power yet fully restored, among other abuses.
The foreclosure horrors add to Puerto Rico’s Dickensian experience of late. Close to 35 percent of the island remains without power after Hurricane Maria, with full restoration not expected until May. At least 100,000 people have left the island. Abandoned pets are everywhere. Government services have been slashed or hobbled. Even one major proposed solution, wiping out Puerto Rico’s debt, will take a personal cost: The bonds represent the life savings of many residents to whom the financial products were aggressively marketed without explanation of the downsides.
Ultimately, the expected wave of foreclosures could prove worse than what happened in the most hard-hit areas in the U.S. mainland during the Great Recession. According to the New York Times, roughly one-third of 425,000 Puerto Rican homeowners have fallen behind on mortgage payments, and with jobs scarce after the hurricane, that number will likely grow. In fact, the economy of the island could collapse, as the Republican tax bill imposes a 20 percent tax on offshore exports — a category that includes Puerto Rican manufacturing.
But if you think America learned lessons from the orgy of illegality that accompanied foreclosures in the United States after 2008, just look to Puerto Rico. Despite new rules to prevent foreclosure fraud, Puerto Rico appears to be Exhibit A in its continuation — and it’s only just beginning.

Piles of home foreclosure documents inside wooden paper holders in the court of first instance, in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, Tuesday, June 20, 2017.

Photo: Ricardo Arduengo/AP

FORECLOSURES RAVAGED PUERTO Rico even before Maria, up 130 percent in 2016 relative to a decade before. Adding two hurricanes to the equation makes the island’s residents ripe for a gargantuan ripoff. 
The foreclosure process in Puerto Rico resembles the judicial foreclosure process on the mainland. Lenders must follow federal guidelines on notifying borrowers of default and giving them an opportunity to cure debt. Then lenders can file a lawsuit for foreclosure. Judges are obligated to impose mandatory mediation, bringing borrowers and lenders to the table to work out a resolution. Only if that doesn’t work can lenders obtain a judgment and evict the homeowner.
However, what sounds like substantive protections for the borrower often don’t play out that way. “Many times they don’t know about their rights,” said Veronica Rivera, a coordinator for Derecho a Tu Casa or Right to Your House — a coalition of legal aid groups providing information and assistance to homeowners facing foreclosure. “They think that the bank would understand that they can’t pay because they lost their jobs. It surprises me sometimes how much trust people have in the banks.”
For example, after Hurricane Maria, the federal government imposed a foreclosure moratorium on homes either backed by government-sponsored mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, or those with Federal Housing Administration insurance. The FHA moratorium was recently extended to March 19, 2018, but it only applies to a sliver of loans. The Fannie and Freddie moratoria were set to expire on December 31, but the lenders this week made an extension until March 31. Banks and mortgage investors voluntarily offered three months of relief from payments, but homeowners had to call their lender to trigger it. “The banks said you have to call,” said Rivera. “We didn’t have internet for more than a month, didn’t have electricity, no communication. Many didn’t know.”
“They think that the bank would understand that they can’t pay because they lost their jobs. It surprises me sometimes how much trust people have in the banks.”
Indeed, a report from the public interest firm Hedge Clippers shows that one company, Roosevelt Cayman Asset Co., has 289 active foreclosure cases in federal court and another 56 in local Puerto Rican courts. Federal courts, typically not a venue for foreclosure cases, are seen as faster than local courts, so offshore companies like Roosevelt lean heavily on them. 
Even after the hurricane, Roosevelt has filed motions for default judgment or eviction in the cases. The Intercept has reviewed lists of dozens of these motions. For example, Roosevelt filed a motion for eviction of Ernesto Santiago-Guzman and his family on October 11, three weeks after Maria hit, and a motion for default judgment against Elias Rivera-Rivera on October 12. U.S. District Judge Gustavo Gelpí denied that request because the case was only initiated a month before the hurricanes, “which trashed the entire island of Puerto Rico.” The judge postponed the case until March.
Other judges have not been so kind. Docket entries show that Roosevelt secured a default judgment against Carlos Gonzalez-Luna’s property on October 23.
Many of the loans Roosevelt acted on were purchased in a fire sale from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation after the 2015 failure of Doral Bank, a lender with a large portfolio of Puerto Rican mortgages. These loans were severely delinquent, some over two years. Federally insured distressed mortgages in Puerto Rico have become an appetizing target for Wall Street land speculators seeking to make a quick buck and turn Puerto Rico into a playground for the rich. 
An unidentified Puerto Rico homeowner submitted a comment to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s consumer complaint database, claiming that Roosevelt is “not flexible and expressed that they just want to acquire the home to build their house portfolio.”
Critics allege Roosevelt uses sleazy tactics to get default judgments. “Since the hurricane, they’ve sought to use service by publication, publishing names in the newspaper to serve the lawsuits. Who’s reading the newspaper these days?” asked Jim Baker, founder of the Private Equity Stakeholder Project, who helped with the Hedge Clippers report. “Then they ask for default judgment because they served papers and the homeowners haven’t responded. In most cases, they’re getting [the judgment],” he added, referring to Roosevelt. 
Roosevelt is an affiliate of Rushmore Loan Management Services, which in turn services loans owned by private equity giant TPG Capital, managers of $73 billion in assets. While TPG spokesperson Patrick Clifford claims only a client relationship between Rushmore and TPG, Rushmore’s principal owners are senior TPG executives. A June 2017 report lists Rushmore as the second-largest repossessor on the island, behind only Banco Popular, Puerto Rico’s main bank.
(A new TPG “impact investing” fund includes on its board Pierre Omidyar, founder of First Look Media, The Intercept’s parent company.)
Activist groups held protests outside TPG headquarters in Manhattan on Wednesday, calling for an end to foreclosures on the island. Related demonstrations were held in eight cities around the world. “This is the first of many companies hurting the people of Puerto Rico and it will be one of many we will be scrutinizing,” said Julio López Varona, a spokesperson for Hedge Clippers, in a statement. “We have asked TPG and Rushmore directly to stop their foreclosures and we will continue to target them until they stop harming Puerto Ricans.”
This appears to have made an impact. Rushmore claims to have “instituted an immediate suspension of foreclosure proceedings in Puerto Rico,” per spokesperson Steven Goldberg, including stopping notice by publication. The length of the freeze is indefinite.
“Rushmore pursues the loan modification or other alternatives to foreclosure first in all cases and remains fully committed to working to keep as many borrowers as possible in their homes,” Goldberg said, “especially in light of the extremely challenging circumstances caused by the hurricane.” He said the company has conducted “extensive outreach efforts” to contact borrowers, given communication problems on the island. Goldberg even provided the number to Rushmore’s Puerto Rico office, (877) 509-8389, and its Spanish and English websites, urging borrowers to contact them to seek a resolution to their situations.

TPG’s Clifford added, “We’ve been in constructive dialogue with various advocacy groups, and we plan to continue having those conversations because they are important.”

 EVEN IF HOMEOWNERS were lucky or savvy enough to fall under the foreclosure moratorium, it expires December 31 for loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and by March for FHA-insured loans. Many have called for those to be extended, but no decision has been made.

The voluntary payment moratoria also expire in January. In an opinion piece for the Puerto Rican newspaper El Nuevo Dia, Ricardo J. Ramos González, who runs the Legal Aid Clinic at the University of Puerto Rico’s School of Law, warned residents that the payment moratorium merely comprised forbearance, not a cancellation of payments. “Those who accepted the moratorium on payments could very well face a process of collection and eventual foreclosure of their main home, if they are required to pay three months plus the current term,” González wrote. He endorsed a yearlong moratorium on foreclosures, similar to those instituted in some states during the Great Depression.
When foreclosure notices and letters from lenders come in the mail in Puerto Rico, they are typically in English. But many Puerto Ricans only speak Spanish. Unlike in local courts, federal court filings are similarly in English, putting homeowners at a disadvantage.
Rivera of Derecho a tu Casa claims that lenders have been negotiating loss mitigation with borrowers while also pursuing foreclosure, a scheme known as “dual tracking,” which is supposed to be illegal under federal mortgage servicing laws and local law in Puerto Rico. The mediation process has not assisted borrowers more generally. “Lawyers cannot participate in the process unless the client gives us special power,” said Rivera. Worse, lenders send representatives who are not empowered to make decisions, she explained. “It’s a pro forma process,” said Rivera. “The banks do not have to give a specific option.”
Foreclosure lawyers in Puerto Rico are also finding the same discrepancies in foreclosure processing that roiled the United States after the crisis. This is not surprising since those errors never really stopped in the United States. Rivera alleges that investors who came in and scooped up distressed mortgages didn’t follow property records procedures. “There have been cases where there is no mortgage. They don’t have the note,” Rivera said.
The endgame of aggressively foreclosing on properties in Puerto Rico — where there is little hope of turning them around to make a profit — is unclear. Offshore lenders “made this investment a couple years ago,” said Baker of Private Equity Stakeholder Project. “They’re churning through the portfolio. Maybe they believe the land is worth more than keeping people in the homes.” The insurance payouts also benefit offshore purchasers of distressed mortgages; that alone could turn a profit relative to the small price paid.
Derecho a tu Casa offers resources at its website to educate homeowners and also representation for those who qualify. “Many people get depressed and we want to give them hope,” Rivera said. “I can see the difference when I represent someone.” 

July 5, 2017

Building a Home for LGBT Seniors in New York City

New York City may be a cradle of gay rights, but for many in the gay community it is still not an easy place to grow old.
Mary Ellen Green can attest to that. Her only refuge is a senior center in Manhattan that serves the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. She can sit down to a hot meal or settle in with a book without worrying about being harassed by her neighbors.
But when the center closes at night and on weekends, Ms. Green, 61, a freelance writer who is homeless, is on her own again.
Ms. Green could soon have somewhere to go. The operator of the senior center, SAGE, a nonprofit advocacy and service organization, is working with private developers to build New York City’s first subsidized housing for older people like Ms. Green who need a place to live, may face discrimination from their neighbors, or simply want to spend their later years among those they feel most comfortable with. 
While such targeted affordable housing is new to New York City, it has been built in a handful of other cities, including Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco, amid a growing recognition that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are more likely to need help as they grow older because many of them are single, have no children and may be estranged from their families. These elders can find themselves isolated in traditional retirement communities or nursing homes, advocates say, and in some cases, may even feel compelled to go back into the closet just to fit in.
A rendering of the Ingersoll Senior Residences, New York City’s first senior housing complex for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. CreditMarvel Architects 
Next month, work will begin on a $78 million apartment building at the Ingersoll Houses, a public-housing project in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, followed in the fall by a $40 million building across from Crotona Park in the Bronx. Both buildings are expected to open in 2019 and will feature SAGE-run senior centers that will also serve the local communities.
“It would answer my prayers,” said Ms. Green, who has been living in church shelters and on the street since March. “We would all look out for each other, be our eyes and ears. I think that understanding and awareness would be there.”
More than 100,000 of New York City’s 1.1 million residents 65 years and older are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, according to SAGE estimates. In recent years, the city has increased funding to expand senior centers and programs for them, but it has struggled to provide living spaces as the city faces an overall shortage of affordable housing.
“This is one place where we’ve been lagging behind, and it’s time to catch up,” said Michael Adams, the chief executive of SAGE.
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has called for more affordable senior housing for this population. “Many older L.G.B.T. adults remember the discrimination they faced in housing and other sectors, and they were silenced for far too long,” said Donna Corrado, the commissioner of the Department for the Aging. “The construction of housing for them creates a safe space and support system that allows L.G.B.T. seniors with limited incomes to live with dignity.”
Felicia Holley, 78, said that, as a lesbian, she looked forward to living in the Ingersoll Houses. “You need to have neighbors you can talk to freely,” she said. CreditHiroko Masuike/The New York Times 
Both buildings also aim to serve the homeless at a time when the city’s homeless population has soared. The Bronx building, the Crotona Senior Residences, will set aside 30 percent of its 84 apartments for older people who are homeless. It is the first collaboration between SAGE and HELP USA, a nonprofit that builds and manages homeless shelters and transitional and permanent housing for those who were homeless.
The Brooklyn building, the Ingersoll Senior Residences, will also designate 25 percent of its 145 studio and one-bedroom apartments for the homeless. The building, which is being built on land leased from the New York City Housing Authority, will also give preference for some units to residents in city housing projects.
While fair housing laws require that the buildings be open to anyone who meets the age and income qualifications, they are being heavily marketed to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. The 17-story Brooklyn building, which will have three outdoor terraces, will be the largest gay-friendly affordable housing for seniors in the country, according to the developer, BFC Partners.
“It’s our hope that we end up here with a building that is largely L.G.B.T. seniors or seniors who understand the L.G.B.T. community and are accepting of it,” said Donald A. Capoccia, a founder of BFC Partners.
The buildings will select residents by lottery. Mr. Adams pointed out that in similar affordable housing developments in other cities, between 60 and 90 percent of the units are occupied by L.G.B.T. seniors. “In a sense, it’s a self-selection process,” he said.
Ingersoll Houses, the site of New York City’s first senior housing complex for gay seniors, in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. CreditHiroko Masuike/The New York Times 
Ros Davis, 69, a retired electrician, said that while she liked her neighbors, the new housing would allow her to live around people she had more in common with. “I feel like I could really enjoy myself,” said Ms. Davis, who is a lesbian. “Especially as an L.G.B.T., you want to be around people you can relate to more.”
In turn, some Fort Greene residents said they welcomed their new neighbors. Bebe Saldana, 31, a housekeeper walking by the grassy corner where the building will rise, said that she would like to get to know some of the L.G.B.T. seniors. “They’re people,” she said. “They’re beautiful people at that.”
Deloris Harvin, 69, a retired day care worker, said she planned to check out the building for her 90-year-old uncle, Eugene Robinson, who is not gay. He recently moved in with her because other senior housing buildings had long waiting lists. Referring to the planned building, Mr. Robinson said, “I don’t mind living there.”
The Brooklyn building cannot open soon enough for Felicia Holley, 78, who is a lesbian. Ms. Holley, a retired word processing supervisor on a tight income, had to move in with her younger daughter in the Bronx four years ago because she could not find an apartment she could afford. “It’s not comfortable,” she said.
Ms. Holley has already walked around Fort Greene to see if she would like living there. She said she would.
“You need to have neighbors you can talk to freely,” she said. “When you’re younger, you can always go party out of your neighborhood, but when you’re older, where can you go?”
New York Times

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