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Long Island

Mortgage program offers struggling homeowners fresh start

Azeez Smith lost his wife to breast cancer and his information technology job within a year, leaving the father of three on the brink of also losing his Brentwood home.

However, Smith, 46, has been able to keep his house through a $17,181.32 loan from the New York State Mortgage Assistance Program. The program has closed its first loans, New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced Sunday.

Schneiderman launched the program in two stages, first opening it to Long Island families in late September, and then to those across the rest of the state in mid-October.

"It felt like I could start everything anew," Smith said Sunday. "It felt like things were working in my favor."

The program allowed him to settle the mortgage arrears and terminate his foreclosure proceedings.

The state received 146 applications for the loan program in just over three months -- 41 from Long Island. Twenty-six loans have been approved since mid-November. Applicants are eligible for up to $40,000, according to the statement. "It's hard to imagine a better investment in our communities and homeowners who are continuing to struggle in the aftermath of the foreclosure crisis," Schneiderman said in his statement.

Eligible loan uses include, but are not limited to, paying off arrears including mortgage payments or unpaid interest and fees; paying down second or third mortgages; satisfying property tax liens or other liens that might lead to loss of home ownership; and supplying borrowers with a "matching" fund to achieve principal reduction or other beneficial first lien modification terms.

Schneiderman's office predicts the program will have the capacity to disburse several hundred loans over the next year. These loans, in all cases, will result in home ownership retention at the time the loan is made, the statement said.

This program follows the attorney general's Homeowner Protection Program (HOPP), which provides struggling borrowers with free legal aid and housing counseling services. The program has served more than 35,000 homeowners statewide since its launch in October 2012.

During his financial troubles, Smith went to the Economic Opportunity Counsel, a HOPP provider in Suffolk County, where he applied for the state mortgage assistance loan.

Smith, who is now employed with another IT company, said he has lived in his home for about five years, and that he and his wife moved from Hempstead to Brentwood because "we wanted the kids to have a big backyard and pool."

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