For the last six years, Elsie Collymore has been trying to hold on to her East New York home — a red and white brick two-family home overlooking busy Pennsylvania Avenue that she’s owned since 1988.
Collymore is one of thousands of New Yorkers facing foreclosure in New York City, seven years after the housing bubble burst. Last year, 46,000 new foreclosure cases were filed in the state, and each case can take years to move through the courts.
“Every night I go to sleep and think tomorrow they’re going to come and say get out of your house,” said Collymore. “It’s been rough.”
Collymore, 67, was born in Trinidad. She started working for Long Island Jewish Medical Center in 1984, and after four years, thought she was financially ready for homeownership.
She agreed to pay $116,000 for her home in 1988. Her loan was last modified in 2009 for $397,776 at 5.5 percent for 30 years.
Since then, her overtime was cut and she fell behind on her monthly payments — even with the extra money coming in from a boarder. Since then, she’s gone to at least 20 court hearings and paid several forbearances on her Federal Housing Administration loan through CitiMortgage. She’s applied for several modifications on the existing loan, which she and her lawyer, Catherine Isobe, calculated accounts for about 45 percent of her monthly income.
“East New York And Brownsville are very hard hit because there’s a lot of predatory lending in those communities,” said Isobe, a lawyer with Bedford-Stuyvesant Community Legal Services that is representing Collymore for free. “Those are majority minority communities, a lot of immigrants, and just a lot of bad lending happens. There was kind of a bubble, and properties were being over appraised, to push people to borrow more money, and there was a precipitous drop in the crash. And I don’t think it’s really recovered.”
According to RealtyTrac, an online marketplace for foreclosed and defaulted properties, data shows 4,005 homes were foreclosed on in New York City Metro area in January, 4,662 in December and 4,824 in November.
“Unfortunately, the state of New York uses the lengthier judicial foreclosure process with the second longest time to foreclosure in the U.S. It takes nearly three years and many homeowners are stuck in limbo as the crisis drags on,” said Ginny Walker, a spokesperson with RealtyTrac.
One in 10 mortgages across the state are in risk of foreclosure, according to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office.
Unlike the rest of the state, and the country, where foreclosed on homes go empty for years, New York City has more of a problem with banks not modifying loans, and years of delays in requests for information, Isobe said. Foreclosure proceedings make up about 30 percent of the state Supreme Court docket, Isobe said.
Collymore’s bank initiated foreclosure proceedings in 2010. Her most recent victory — or lack thereof — came last August when a judge ruled she doesn’t have to pay any interest on her loan since December 2009, when CitiMortgage should have reviewed her for a loan modification.
The bank, however, hasn’t removed the more than $100,000 in interest, and wants to withdraw from the case. The problem is, Collymore won’t qualify for a loan modification with all of the accrued interest on her account.
So she’s back to square one, trying to apply for a modification, and stay in her home, which she owes nearly $400,000 in unpaid principal interest and more than $500,000 in interest, escrow and various fees.
“I have thought about (walking away), but then where would I go?” Collymore said.
With hopes of retirement stalled until her housing situation is resolved, Collymore drives her “beat up” Chevy Blazer to Long Island, where works for the same hospital as a mental health worker, caring for elderly patients with Alzheimer’s.
“There was a lot of funny things that happened during the real estate boom, and unfortunately, a lot of people signed whatever the mortgage broker put in front of them,” said Rose Marie Cantanno, a supervising attorney with New York Legal Assistance Group.
Cantanno said many current foreclosure cases started years ago, and are taking so long because the court-mandated procedures have to be accomplished, and banks kept asking for extending hearings.
“They used to call it the shadows docket,” Cantanno said. “Until the next step is taken, people didn’t have their day in court, and every month it costs people more and more money (in interest payments).”
While a lot of her clients need legal help because of predatory lending in poor and minority neighborhoods, Cantanno said the majority of her clients are people who at one point had well paying jobs and can no longer afford their payments, are victims of scammers or need help modifying their loans.