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Westchester Foreclosure Spike Not An Economic Indicator, Legislator Says

Legiuslator Peter Harckham (D-North Salem) chairs the Labor/Parks/Planning/Housing Committee. Photo Credit: Brian Donnelly
Westchester County Clerk Timothy Idoni, left, and Westchester Residential Opportunities In. director Veronica Raphael talk about the spike in foreclosures in 2013 and 2014. Photo Credit: Brian Donnelly
The Westchester Planning Department shows the foreclosure filings and judgments from 2005 through March 2014. Photo Credit: Brian Donnelly
The Westchester Planning Department shows the foreclosure judgments by town as a percentage of total housing units from 2008 through March 2014. Photo Credit: Brian Donnelly

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – Foreclosure judgments on Westchester homes spiked 514 percent in February and 200 percent in March, which Westchester County legislators said was a ripple effect from the housing crisis and isn’t a reflection of the county’s economic health in 2014.

Westchester County Clerk Timothy Idoni said that about 90 percent of the foreclosures were filed two-to-three years ago. The number of judgments had dipped 41 percent in 2011 and 32 percent in 2012, but rose 23 percent in 2013.

“We’re starting to see that kind of stuff clearing out,” he said at a meeting of the county Board of Legislators Labor/Parks/Planning/Housing Committee Tuesday.

In some cases banks haven’t taken the title on a foreclosed home because of new obligations placed on them by the courts to maintain the property, said Norma Drummond, deputy commissioner of the Westchester County Planning Department. As a result banks don’t want as much inventory and are handling foreclosures differently than they used to before the recession.

Legislator Peter Harckham, who chairs the Labor/Parks/Planning/Housing Committee, said this prevents a municipality or county from buying the property and potentially reusing it for affordable housing.

"The rise in the statistical number of foreclosures... it’s not really indicative of the economic condition of the county as it stands right now," Legislator Michael Smith (R-Mount Pleasant) said.

Yonkers has the most total housing units in foreclosure, 793 as of March 31, 2014. That represents .99 percent of the city's total housing units, 80,389, the seventh highest percentage in the county. Mount Vernon has the highest at 1.84 percent, followed by Peekskill with 1.66, Lewisboro with 1.17, Bedford with 1.03, Ossining with 1.06 and Cortlandt with 1.01 percent, according to the county planning department.

Many of the residual foreclosures are a result of what Idoni called robo signings, where lenders would approve loans without verifying an applicants’ paperwork," Drummond said.

“A lot of these people were fooled into thinking they were going to be able to sell their homes for more than they bought them for, even if they fell behind on their payments, because the market was going up and up,” he said. “All of a sudden the bubble burst in ‘07 and now they’re under water and there’s no way to get their money back and pay the loan at the same time.”

Westchester can now file a complaint with the New York Attorney General’s Office against a lender who “is not performing in good faith” thanks to the home ownership protection plan, which was instituted last year. The lender would have to give the loan a second look and possibly modify it, Idoni said.

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