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Foreclosed: How Will New York’s Neighborhoods Recover?

Pressure is mounting to halt the national tide of foreclosures. New York’s housing advocates are working at the frontlines to keep people in their homes and to ensure that solutions currently being generated at the city and state level respond to New York’s unique housing and neighborhood needs. A MAS Planning Center panel discussion moderated by Eva Hanhardt of the Pratt Graduate Center for Planning and the Environment late last year, tapped the insights of Audrey Waysee, Center for New York City Neighborhoods; Josh Zinner, Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project; Mark Winston-Griffith, Drum Major Institute; Patricia Kerr, Neighborhood Housing Services, Jamaica;and Ingrid Gould Ellen, Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy, to confront the question: how do we stabilize neighborhoods experiencing high rates of foreclosure? Josh Zinner and Mark Winston-Griffith kicked off the discussion by explaining the local origins of crisis and why it particularly impacts communities of color — drawing connections to redlining and discriminatory banking practices that left some neighborhoods with a credit vacuum — a vacuum subsequently filled by unscrupulous lenders with no stake in neighborhood stability. Wall Street’s role allowed for marketing of increasingly complex loan products and sale of bundled loans to underwriters. Ingrid Gould Ellen painted a statistical portrait of the crisis in New York City: in the 1990’s, foreclosure filings numbered around 6000 per year, while in 2008, the number was 17,000. Her research at the Furman Center found that 60 percent of the affected foreclosed population rents, and that renters have very few rights to remain in foreclosed homes. She also noted that the neighborhood impact is less about income than about race, and that the neighborhoods hardest hit are home to high concentrations of people of color. Patricia Kerr, working in Jamaica, the “ground zero” of the foreclosure crisis, described a situation that she felt was putting neighborhood housing organizations “back to square one.” She recounted front line stories about mortgage providers’ greed. Audrey Waysee talked about the work of the Center for New York City’s neighborhoods and its mission, pointing out that 90 percent of the Center’s budget supports neighborhood work. She talked about the collaborations with housing advocates that enable the Center to understand how to target its resources most effectively. Moderator Eva Hanhardt asked panelists to share their ideas for avoiding the type of widespread neighborhood disinvestment of the 1970’s. Panelists noted that key immediate actions should be to regulate the subprime market going forward; to prevent foreclosure (through loan modification) and ensure that properties are sold to legitimate homeowners; provide education to loan counselors, lawyers and judges involved in foreclosure proceedings; secure more support for overwhelmed housing services providers; protect renters; enforce adequate property management on bank-held properties; fund state and city purchase of property; and, on a macro-scale, re-conceive the Community Reinvestment Act so that its provisions contribute more directly to neighborhood stabilization. Please check out the videotape for the details of this conversation. As a post-script, the federal government has just made available $24 million which the city will use to purchase and make affordable 115 foreclosed home. This is a great start. The dialogue among advocates, planners, policy makers, and decision-makers needs to continue to ensure that solutions work for New York City’s neighborhoods in the long-term.