In an effort to combat the impact of recent NYS budget cuts, NYLAG’s Associate Board rallied under the banner of Consumer Protection, hosting an event “to help working families in need.”

The approved 2012 New York State budget drastically cut all funding for foreclosure prevention legal services, representing a total loss of $1.5 million to agencies across the State. NYLAG’s extremely successful Foreclosure Prevention Project (FPP), which has helped nearly 1,000 homeowners since its inception in 2008, had been receiving over $400,000 per year in State funding. When NYLAG first learned of the cuts this past spring, it joined forces with other legal service providers to petition State officials for interim funding. Unfortunately, this proposal was unsuccessful, and funding will expire in December of this year. NYLAG’s FPP attorneys handle approximately 560 foreclosure prevention matters for clients each year. The budget cuts have the potential to reduce these numbers to zero. “In anticipation of the loss of funding, we have been forced to severely restrict the level of representation we provide to clients in court,” explained Supervising Attorney of FPP, Daphne Schlick. “Since most foreclosure cases take more than six months to reach a settlement, the FPP has stopped taking on new clients for representation in court actions, despite the fact that the need has not diminished.” Also in jeopardy are several projects and clinics administered by NYLAG that help homeowners navigate the complicated court process involved in saving their homes. This includes the Foreclosure Prevention Clinic Center, located in the Bronx County Supreme Court, which is staffed by NYLAG and two other State-funded agencies.

Equally unfortunate for homeowners, the Office of Court Administration recently underwent massive layoffs, which has resulted in fewer judges and referees to hear cases, and coincides with an expected surge in foreclosure actions this summer. Without attorneys to represent the dramatically increased number of defendants and a reduced number of Judges and referees who can oversee the cases, the lengthy foreclosure process will be prolonged even further. According to Standards and Poors, NYC alone already has such a significant backlog of cases that it will take an estimated 154 months to clear.

In an effort to raise funding and awareness for this and other important consumer protection issues, NYLAG’s Associate Board hosted an event on June 22nd to benefit working families in need. Over 100 people came out to Providence Bar in midtown to show their support, and all proceeds went to the Consumer Protection Project, including in large part, Foreclosure Prevention Project. Through presentations, individual client stories, statistics and project descriptions, event attendees gained a new understanding of the important role consumer protection projects play in keeping New Yorkers out of poverty.

One client whose story was highlighted that evening was David, a disabled September 11th first responder who had unknowingly entered into an extremely predatory mortgage. After losing his job of 22 years without warning, and with mounting medical bills, David was no longer able to keep up with his monthly payments and faced foreclosure. Attorneys from the FPP worked with him to successfully negotiate a loan modification from his lender. David expressed his gratitude, saying, “I was literally close to being homeless and felt completely alone until I met NYLAG. Their attorneys worked with me for over a year, guiding me along the way, both legally and emotionally. I honestly would have given up if it weren’t for them.”

The June 22nd event not only helped continue these programs on a short-term basis, but also increased awareness about the extent to which even limited legal assistance can dramatically change the outcomes for families in need, increasing their financial stability and enabling them to stay in their homes.