As the lending world imploded and legislation cracked down on financial firms, the Empire State Mortgage Bankers Association was barely alive.

The trade group of small and medium-sized lenders, most from Long Island, had dwindled in the past few years from about two score members to 14. Some closed shop; others just weren't active.

But now, some of the remaining members and their counterparts across the state have been meeting and trying to reorganize, with fresh blood and new rules.

"Hopefully by mid July, we'll have a viable organization again," said group's longtime vice president, Mike McHugh, head of Continental Home Loans in Melville. "Right now, there are a tremendous amount of regs being passed in Washington on a daily basis that affect our business and livelihoods and our ability to lend. Those of us that have survived and are around, we believe we're here for a reason because we've done business the right way and for a long period of time."

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But no free admission this time. Prospective joiners will have to submit letters of recommendations, be on good standing with the state banking department and show some standards, the vice president said.

"You can't bring in somebody who's currently under investigation as a representative of the organization," McHugh said. "You want to make sure that the people you're bringing in are of similar caliber or at least have not been tainted or as a group, you'll be tainted."