Long Island's foreclosure rate grew even as New York City's share of housing distress declined early this year, the state's fiscal watchdog reported Monday.
Long Island had the highest foreclosure rate in New York, Thomas P. DiNapoli, the state comptroller, reported in a new analysis of state court data. In Suffolk County, 2.82 percent of all homes -- one in 35 -- were in foreclosure, the largest share in the state. Nassau County had the second-largest foreclosure rate, at 2.47 percent.
Across the Island, 27,600 homes were in foreclosure in January, 6.3 percent more than a year earlier, the analysis showed.
Long Island's housing distress worsened even as New York City's fortunes improved, with 29,167 city homes in foreclosure, a year-over-year decline of 5.1 percent. In the city, 0.86 percent of all homes -- one in 116 -- were in foreclosure.
The reasons for the Island's persistent housing woes range from the severity of the housing crash on the Island, to the impact of superstorm Sandy and the region's high cost of living and anemic economic recovery, housing experts said.
Since the recession, New York City has seen more dramatic gains in housing values and stronger job growth than the Island, DiNapoli said.
"If you're on Long Island and you had a huge mortgage, based on a price that no longer was attainable, you could easily get 'underwater,' " DiNapoli said, using a term for when a mortgage balance exceeds the home's value.
The Island's jobless rate fell to 4.5 percent in June, the lowest for that month since 2007, according to the most recent state Labor Department figures. However, workers' average hourly wages on Long Island have fallen from a recent high of $26.80 in February 2013 to $25.88 in June, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reported.
Long Island's economy is "getting better, but it's not as good as it used to be," said Amityville homeowner Juan Martes, 49.
Martes said his home fell into foreclosure in January. His income as a sign-maker has taken a hit since the recession, and his wife has endured multiple surgeries and intermittent periods of unemployment in recent years, Martes said.
Help finally arrived in the form of an interest-free $40,000 loan that helped the family pay off the mortgage arrears, Martes said. The loan, part of the state attorney general's Mortgage Assistance Program, is funded by the $25 billion accord reached by state and federal agencies with major mortgage lenders in 2012.
Long Island's foreclosure crisis is growing more severe in Nassau, where the number of homes in foreclosure in January jumped by nearly 19 percent from a year earlier. The number of Suffolk homes in foreclosure fell by 1.1 percent in that period.
Nassau's increase could be due to the delayed impact of the October 2012 superstorm that devastated the county's south shore, said Marianne Garvin, chief executive of the Centereach-based Community Development Corp. of Long Island.
"If people were not able to get the insurance money and the New York Rising money and they weren't able to get their house rebuilt, then a lot of people were just walking away, and they got foreclosed on," Garvin said.
Long Island's high property taxes are another factor.
In Nassau County the median property tax bill in 2010 was $9,289, and in Suffolk County it was $7,768, according to the most recent data analyzed by the conservative-leaning Tax Foundation in Washington, D.C. By contrast, the median tax bill across New York was $4,090.
Statewide, lenders are filing more new foreclosures than they did before the 2007-2009 recession, DiNapoli reported. Last year, lenders filed lawsuits seeking to take back 43,868 homes across New York, the comptroller's office report shows. That's down 8 percent from the peak of 47,664 in 2009, but 64 percent higher than in 2006.
"The foreclosure crisis is far from resolved," DiNapoli said in a statement. "Foreclosed properties displace families and weigh heavily on local communities, reducing property values and eroding tax bases. We must continue efforts to help homeowners and stem the spread of foreclosure-induced blight."
It took 1,475 days to foreclose on a home in New York in the first quarter of 2015, the longest delay in the nation, according to national data firm RealtyTrac.