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LI homes in foreclosure process up 37% in '09

The number of Long Island homes that fell into some stage of foreclosure climbed 37 percent last year, with Suffolk homeowners seeing more such activity than all but one county in the state, according to a newly released breakdown of the foreclosure crisis.

Data from RealtyTrac, an online marketer of foreclosures, shows 7,582 Suffolk homes got some sort of foreclosure-related filing last year, either the legal notice of the lender's claim, auction notice or notice of the lender's taking back the property. That's a 29 percent jump from the preceding year when 5,885 homes were directly affected, the report said.

Those homes equate to 1.39 percent of Suffolk households, including renters, second to upstate Orange County's 1.4 percent, the breakdown shows.

In Nassau, the number of homes directly affected last year shot up 48 percent to 6,064 properties, or 1.32 percent of households, up from 2008's 4,099 homes, RealtyTrac said. That 1.32 percent put Nassau fifth in the state. Only Queens had more homes directly affected than Suffolk, 8,248 homes. But that represented only .99 percent of all Queens households.

Last year was supposed to be the start of turning back the tide on foreclosures as a new president handed down help, from loan modification programs to funds for housing counseling.

But instead, 2009 broke monthly records nationwide in foreclosure activity, according to RealtyTrac reports. The rescue system was strewn with problems. The start-up of loan modification and foreclosure prevention programs was criticized for being clunky and disorganized. In some cases lenders lost paperwork, and homeowners were slow sending in required documents.

A year ago, just before getting laid off, Sherri Dumas of Patchogue tried to lower her 8.5 percent interest rate on her own with her lender but went for help after three months of never getting the same person on the phone and seeing the rules constantly change in the federal modification programs.

"You don't get any type of progress when you're trying to do it on our own because they don't work with you," said Dumas, whose home of 18 years was saved in November with the help of the nonprofit Long Island Housing Services in Bohemia.

"They should have a watchdog," she said of the federal Making Home Affordable Program. "At least I would have been able to call someone or know who to reach out to."

Beyond RealtyTrac figures showing a 0.67 percent jump in New York State properties affected last year and a 21 percent hike nationally, the extent of the crisis is not clear.

The figures exclude homeowners who saw no filing action on their foreclosure cases last year, which means the crisis might be worse than the report suggests. But also, many homeowners linger as part of foreclosure statistics because their cases are put on hold during modification negotiations.

"I don't think we're out of the woods yet," said Joe Sanseverino, Suffolk's director of community development. "Because we have programs and people have been able to take advantage of them, if those programs take, we'll be in much better shape."

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