LI's minority enclaves hit hard by foreclosure

Elmont resident Mimi Pierre-Johnson, right, and her son, Elmont resident Mimi Pierre-Johnson, right, and her son, Aaron, marched last year to protest against foreclosure practices that have greatly impacted local minority communities. Photo Credit: Steven Sunshine, 2012

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Long Island communities with the highest concentrations of houses slated for foreclosure are also the neighborhoods where many black and Hispanic residents live, reflecting a disproportionate impact of the housing crisis for minority groups, according to a new study of foreclosure warning notices sent by banks.

The report by the Empire Justice Center, which advocates for low-income people, looked at pre-foreclosure filings for the first half of 2012 and ranked areas based on the volume and proximity of properties.

It found that minority communities in Nassau and Suffolk counties are among the most threatened by impending foreclosures. Those neighborhoods are also disproportionately hurt by declining housing values and lack of access to loans, the study found.

"You've got areas of high African-American and Latino home ownership and those areas are going to be our most impacted," said study co-author Ruhi Maker, a senior staff attorney with the Empire Justice Center. "You've got prices falling in the entire community in those neighborhoods."

Overall, Long Island accounted for nearly 41,000 or 26 percent of pre-foreclosure filings of more than 159,000 statewide in the first half of 2012. The filings are sent by banks to homeowners before court foreclosure papers are filed, and reported to the state.

About 43 percent of the notices in Nassau went to areas like Hempstead, Elmont and Roosevelt, where minorities are the majority or represent a large population segment. In Suffolk, the large minority enclaves of Central Islip, Brentwood and Wyandanch were at the top of the list of "most impacted" areas, the study said, with nearly 11 percent of notices.

Housing advocates put the blame on a combination of expensive subprime loans before the housing bust that targeted minority groups, and lack of remedies for those stuck with them.

The hardest-hit communities are in "a terrible spiral" of foreclosures, pulling down property values and making it harder to refinance, said Michael McHugh, president and chief executive of Continental Home Loans in Melville and chair of the Empire State Mortgage Bankers Association.

The sooner those communities can recover, he said, the better for everyone.

The report called for a combination of measures from municipalities, the state and federal officials to improve the upkeep of vacant properties, offer principal reductions to struggling homeowners and expedite loan modifications.

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said the report is "a timely and urgent reminder that the foreclosure crisis is far from over."

Brian Sullivan, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said, "this is data that the Federal Reserve and HUD routinely monitor" to guide policy.

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