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Business/Economy

Applying to NY Homeowners Assistance Fund in January? State & local advocates say prepare now

Buffalo houses
Tom Dinki
/
WBFO News

Homeowners at risk of default, foreclosure or displacement because of COVID-related economic hardship will have the opportunity in early January to apply for financial assistance that may help keep them from losing their homes. But state officials and housing advocates are urging people why may qualify to begin preparing their applications now.

The Homeowners Assistance Fund, or HAF, is funded through the US Treasury Department but will be managed by New York State. In all, $539 million will be available to help homeowners who fell behind on payments including mortgages, taxes, utilities, or other requirements as the direct result of income being interrupted by the pandemic.

The state will begin accepting applications January 3, 2022. But because it’s a first-come, first-serve program, those who will seek financial assistance through HAF are urged to begin preparing their applications now.

“We do expect that the program will be inundated with applications right from the start,” said Amy Gathings, supervising attorney for foreclosures at the Western New York Law Center. “And the timing of this, we think, is really important. Because we know that the foreclosure moratorium expires on January 15. So cases will be moving forward and foreclosures will be filed again. And so people will be at even a heightened risk at that point of being displaced from their home.”

Dina Levy, with the New York State Division of Homes and Community Renewal, says the state has set up a website to help people prepare in advance of January 3.

“There you can get a ton of information about the program. There's frequently asked questions. There's an application guide, which is a step-by-step walkthrough of what the application process will be asking homeowners to submit, including a document checklist that lets folks know what documents they may need to upload as part of the application process,” Levy said.

The state is also managing a call center to assist applicants, 1-844-776-9423. Levy says the service is available in ten languages.

The Western New York Law Center is available to assist locally with preparations.

“We can also take on legal representation to make sure that homeowners know what the process is,” Gathings said. “They can also make sure that they're submitting any defenses that they need to raise to protect themselves, so they're not in default in their lawsuit. And we can also provide additional help and negotiating other options, if the Homeowner Assistance Fund program doesn't work out.”

Gathings points out that if a case comes to foreclosure, the homeowner and occupants need not immediately move out. Options to avoid that are available, she says, and the foreclosure process is a lengthy one.

Those in need of assistance through the Western New York Law Center may call 716-855-0203, ext. 107.

Levy says the state also aims to help homeowners make sure they’re getting all due support.

“One of the key aspects of this program is that in addition to the HAF funds themselves, we are going to be working with homeowners to make sure that their banks or their mortgage servicing companies are providing them all of the relief they're entitled to, under both federal and state rules,” Levy said. “So we are really strongly advising folks to apply to our program as we open on January 3, so that we can help guide them through that process.”