Henrietta woman fights foreclosure to keep her house and wins – Democrat & Chronicle

Henrietta woman fights foreclosure to keep her house and wins

by: Erica Bryant

Some think that banks don’t have to help homeowners who have fallen on hard times.  “A bank isn’t a social agency,” one reader said in an email after last week’s column about a woman who is fighting foreclosure. “If the customer can’t pay, they take the house.”

Actually, the law requires banks to make a number of specific efforts to help homeowners keep their property. More people need to know their rights, and that there are free resources to help protect them.

Just ask Jean S. Blattner, a Henrietta woman who recently received a mortgage modification that will allow her to keep her home. It took four years, more than a dozen court appearances, many tears and two local non-profit organizations to accomplish this.

Blattner bought a house on Fawn Ridge Road for $125,000 in 2005. She says she never missed a payment until she was laid off from her job as a purchasing agent in 2013. Money was tight and she didn’t pay her mortgage in March and April of 2013.  Shortly after, she got a letter from U.S. Bank, which had purchased her mortgage, saying that she was in danger of losing her home.

 At first, she tried to navigate on her own, which meant sitting on the phone for hours and being transferred again and again to different bank employees who couldn’t help her. U.S. Bank sent her different letters demanding different amounts of money.  When she sent checks towards her debt, U.S. Bank returned them. “They wouldn’t take a nickel,” she said.  After seven months of getting nowhere, she was in panic.

At the unemployment insurance office, Blattner had seen a flier offering free housing counseling services through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. She called the Housing Council, which hosts HUD counseling services, and was connected with foreclosure prevention counselor Christopher Schello. He eventually connected her to Empire Justice Center, where attorney Kevin Purcell took her case.

The foreclosure process can be maddening, even to attorneys who deal with it for a living, Purcell said. But free counseling and legal services can help distressed homeowners avoid certain pitfalls that can hurt a person’s chances of getting a loan modification, extension or lower interest rate. For example, if a mortgage holder asks for your bank statement, you have to send all pages, even if the last page printed is blank. If you don’t mail that blank page, the bank will say that it did not receive the document. It will probably not tell you that you need to send the blank page, so it is likely that you will repeat the mistake.

Average people don’t often have hours in the middle of the day to spend on the phone trying to get through to bank employees who can help them.  Or to deal with lost documents, confusing, incorrect and conflicting requests and other problems.

“People ask all the time ‘are the banks evil?’” said Purcell. “I tend to blame it more on incompetence.” He said that banks have not set up processes that can handle the volume of homeowners who are facing foreclosure. The bank employees who are in charge of delinquent mortgages are often overwhelmed and undertrained.

The problem has been widespread. In 2013, U.S. Bank was among the 10 banks that agreed to pay $8.5 billion dollars in a federal lawsuit because they mishandled foreclosure paperwork and skipped mandated steps in the foreclosure process. The money was probably small comfort to the thousands of people who were unjustly forced to leave their homes, a profoundly traumatic experience.

 Blattner feared this would happen to her and said she often left her court appearances in tears. She credits Schello and Purcell with encouraging her not to give up as the process dragged on, the paperwork piled up and the bank wouldn’t take payments. “I had $20,000 in the bank and they wouldn’t take it,” she said. “I was dumbfounded.”

Meanwhile, bank representatives kept calling to encourage her to accept a short sale of her home. Blattner refused because she didn’t want to lose all she had worked for. “I was proud of the fact that I was a working woman and I put myself through school and I bought myself a home,” she said.

U.S. Bank did not respond to questions about Blattner’s experience before the deadline for this column. But her story has a happy ending. She got a job with Children Awaiting Parents. After 4 years and countless hours of effort, she has reached an agreement with U.S. Bank to modify her loan. Her missed payments will be added to the back end of her mortgage. She has planted new hostas and flowers at the property and sent thank you notes to Schello and Purcell.  She encourages any homeowner who is falling behind on mortgage payments or facing foreclosure to seek help quickly. “You have got to stand your ground,” she said. “I saved my home because of non-profits that supported me.”

Rochester has four HUD-approved Housing Counseling Agencies that offer free foreclosure prevention assistance. For more information call The Housing Council at Pathstone at (585) 546-3700, Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Rochester at (585) 546-3440, Marketview Heights Association at (585) 423-1540 or Urban League of Rochester at (585) 325-6530.

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Veterans Outreach Center names new Executive Director, Laura Stradley – whec.com

Veterans Outreach Center names new Executive Director, Laura Stradley

by: Laura Stradley

Laura Stradley has been named the new Executive Director of the Veterans Outreach Center.

Stradley is currently the Director of the Monroe County Veterans Service Agency. She previously worked as a Program Manager at Veterans Outreach Center from 2011-2012.

Since March 2014, Stradley has been on the VOC Board of Directors. She also served for eight years in the United States Army from 1996-2004.

“I have spent countless evenings and weekends advocating for the needs of veterans and I am eager to continue the great work the VOC does every day,” Stradley says. “Having worked in the veteran’s community for more than a decade, I have an unabashed passion for serving my brothers and sisters in arms.”

Stradley was an inductee of the New York State Senate Veterans Hall of Fame in 2015, and received the 2017 Vietnam Veterans Chapter 20 (VVA 20) Service Award this past spring.

Executive Director Todd Baxter resigned in April. Judge Patricia Marks is currently serving as Interim Executive Director.

Stradley will begin her role on September 6.

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Housing Council gets local grandmother back on her feet – The Batavian

Housing Council gets local grandmother back on her feet

by: Maria Pericozzi

Marguerite bought her house in Batavia when her first granddaughter was born, to be close to her family and job, but never expected to find herself struggling to keep her house.

“Life happened,”  Marguerite said.

Through the Housing Council at Pathstone, one of New York State’s largest comprehensive housing counseling agencies, she was able to get back on her feet.

In order to protect the privacy of Marguerite and her family, her last name will not be published.

Her troubles started when she had family members in four different locations who were sick. She spent the last five years helping various family members with their financial troubles, as well as being a caregiver and working at the United Memorial Medical Center.

“Things happen in life,”  Marguerite said. “There’s always a reason behind it somewhere. Sometimes we find out and sometimes we don’t.”

Marguerite remembers going at least four days without eating or sleeping, running on adrenaline when her husband was sick. For nine months, she went through the schedule of sleeping for a couple hours a night, then going back to see her husband.

It didn’t take long before she stopped caring for herself and in July of 2012, she physically broke down. She took a medical leave of absence, and shortly after that, her job at United Memorial Medical Center was eliminated.

Prior to her job being eliminated, she had taken $13,000 out of her retirement fund and cashed in two life insurance policies, in an attempt to support herself and other family members.

She had no income, was unable to work, and therefore was unable to make mortgage payments. She said she did everything she could before she decided to get the help she needed.

According to Pathstone’s website, the nonprofit organization provides landlord education, foreclosure prevention, pre-purchase counseling, emergency housing services and fair housing education. The Housing Council is located at 75 College Ave. in Rochester.

When Marguerite  was in trouble with the mortgage company, they recommended the Housing Council.

The Housing Council was incredibly supportive for her as she went through the difficult time. When Marguerite was unable to handle stress due to her physical condition, a lawyer was provided for her through the Housing Council, to represent her in court. Between the Housing Council and her lawyer, she was given the assistance she needed so she would not lose her house.

“There was always such good communication between the Housing Council and the mortgage company,” Marguerite said.

Marguerite said the Housing Council was always very understanding and extremely helpful.

“There were times when I just couldn’t focus enough to handle it myself,” Marguerite said. “Whatever I wouldn’t be able to do, they did for me.”

The Housing Council was also able to assist Marguerite in lower her mortgage interest rate.

Marguerite said this process took away some of her worries about the bank foreclosing on her property.

“I was able to walk away with my dignity and pride,” Marguerite said. “When you’re going through so much, it’s an awful feeling to know that out of your love and dedication for your family, that you’ve made yourself sick and that I might lose everything.”

According to the Housing Council at Pathstone’s website, they helped 1,100 households avoid foreclosure last year.

For Marguerite, her home was the place that allowed her to forget everything that was going on and take a break.

“Sometimes good people find themselves in bad situations,” Marguerite said. “Mine was loved ones getting ready to pass away. I can’t imagine losing them and losing my house at the same time. The Housing Council prevented that from happening.”

Marguerite said she thinks this happened to her so she could become an advocate.

“That kind of loyalty and dedication to the community or to a person is fantastic,” Marguerite said. “If I didn’t have them doing that for me…I wasn’t physically or mentally able to do it myself.”

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Local homeowners may qualify for Weatherization Assistance Program – rochesterfirst.com

Local homeowners may qualify for Weatherization Assistance Program

by: www.rochesterfirst.com

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC-TV) – Local homeowners who need help making their home more energy efficient can turn to a local organization called PathStone.

The organization was awarded a grant for $1.1 million in funding for its Weatherization Assistance Program.

The program helps eligible homeowners in suburban Monroe County and focuses on households with senior citizens, persons with disabilities, and households with children. A few of the services offered at no-cost include insulation, heating, and air sealing to reduce drafts.

This funding is available through March 2018 and PathStone is currently accepting applications. To apply for the Weatherization Assistance Program at PathStone, you can call: (585) 442-2030 ext. 202 or visit pathstoneenergyinfo.org.

Batavia woman’s experiences, strength inspire city officials working on zombie homes – www.thedailynewsonline.com

Batavia woman’s experiences, strength inspire city officials working on zombie homes

by: Jim Krencik

BATAVIA — With multiple generations of her family needing medical treatment, a Batavia woman spent every penny she had to her name to care for them.

Speaking to city officials Monday, Marguerite requested her last name not be publicized. Despite that privacy, she has been open to sharing with anyone the repeated challenges she faced and the help she received in the face of another personal upheaval.


Marguerite was fully two years behind on her mortgage when her lender indicated in 2013 that they were ready to foreclose on her home in the town of Batavia. She was already dealing with the financial and physical complications of neglecting her own needs for her family, but the notice struck at her dignity.

“My home was my sanctuary, my home was where I went to find all the peace and serenity I need,” she said. “It was my safeguard, it was my place to unwind, and lay on the grass with my grandchildren and look at the stars, the moon, the galaxy … the things that take you away from it all.”

Her mortgage lender’s notice also included a list that became another sanctuary. Marguerite said a recommendation to contact The Housing Council at Pathstone set in motion a relationship that saved her home as she moved between sources of turmoil that four years later are shaken off as tests of faith.

Sitting across the table, Assistant City Manager Gretchen DiFante and intern Lindsey Luft were overwhelmed by the adversity Marguerite faced. They are working to encourage more homeowners to pursue services like Pathstone’s and were both inspired and awed.

“It’s really inspired me to assure people that Pathstone is going to be a source of positivity for them, a source of strength, to help get them through a struggling situation in life,” Luft said.

The city has worked with community groups and churches to spread palm cards and fliers urging homeowners to use the no-cost, confidential services based out of The Housing Council at Pathstone’s Batavia office.

“Behind on your mortgage? We can help you,” the fliers say, with pledges to work with them on foreclosure prevention.

Marguerite said the impact was near-immediate for her.

It was a critical moment. She was out of work — her job in a hospital’s radiology department was eliminated after she went on an extended family medical leave in 2012 — and struggling with a series of permanent physical ailments. Her retirement and life insurance had been drained, and bills continued to mount despite a life of just the essentials.

“I’ve always been a strong, individual person, but I lost so much,” Marguerite said.

Within days, Pathstone had connected her with a pro-bono lawyer for her appearance in the foreclosure court, and the agency was assembling her financial records to show that she had not been wasteful. They directed her to assistance through the Expanded STAR tax exemption and social services, helping her to swallow her pride in accepting help.

Marguerite recalls shaking with anxiety as the court date arrived. The judge told it was OK, they were here to figure it out for her. Even the mortgage lender’s attorney explained they did not want to take her home.

“They kept true to that process … I wasn’t let down,” she said, a trial period of paying $300 a month toward the debt for three months, followed by a consolidated property tax, home loan and home insurance payment that was reduced soon after.

She urges people in her situation — Luft estimated more than 100 city residents are at least several months behind on their mortgages — to not give up. Her family and her church stepped up; as did the systems in place, but it was a personal journey.

“Be upfront, be honest, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about,” Marguerite said. “There’s so much to say … I’m still in my house.”

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A dream turned reality celebrated at Pinnacle North – Daily Messenger – mpnnow.com

A dream turned reality celebrated at Pinnacle North

by: Denise Champagne

Assemblyman Kolb at the Canandaigua development: “If you build it, they will come”

CANANDAIGUA — The movie “Field of Dreams,” was on the mind of Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb this weekend as he thought about the Pinnacle North project and what it will become.

At the ribbon cutting Monday, Kolb drew an analogy from the movie, paraphrasing the film’s most famous line of dialogue and telling a large group of developers, civic leaders, staff and community members, “If you build it, they will come.”

Kolb noted the film’s Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner), an Iowa farmer who heard voices telling him to build a baseball diamond in his corn field, also had a lot of naysayers — but like the people involved in the Pinnacle North project, he took his vision from a dream to reality.

“It’s teamwork, and the best is yet to come,” Kolb said, standing beneath a large white tent behind the newly opened Young Lion Brewing Co. “This is just the beginning. It’s just been very rewarding for me to play a small part with all the partners involved in this project.”

The multi-phase, mixed-use project is being designed and developed by Morgan-LeChase Development LLC, a joint venture between Morgan Management LLC and LeChase Construction Services LLC formed in 2013 when plans were first announced to develop a 21-acre parcel on the north side of Lakeshore Drive, across from Kershaw Park.

The first phase includes luxury living quarters at Pinnacle North Apartments, which people started moving into in March; Young Lion Brewing Co., which opened last month; Abbott’s Frozen Custard, which opened Memorial Day; and the soon-to-open restaurant of Three Brothers Winery & Estates.

Reflecting on a rainy weekend, former state Senator Michael Nozzolio, who worked with developers and civic leaders from the project’s inception, said he thought Kolb came up with a great metaphor and joked he was worried he might have used Noah’s Ark.

Nozzolio, who did not seek re-election last November, said working with people on projects is what he misses most about no longer being in the state Senate.

“The Finger Lakes is not just a great place to visit,” he said. “It’s a wonderful place to live, it’s a wonderful place to work and it’s a wonderful place to raise your family.”

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Housing market remains steady here, area experts say – rbj.net

Housing market remains steady here, area experts say

by: Kerry Feltner

The housing market in Rochester remains steady with increased sales of new homes, home building in demand, and low mortgage rates, officials said Thursday.

But 2017 has presented some challenges to home building—mainly weather.

“We’re status quo,” said Rick Herman, CEO of the Rochester Home Builders’ Association. “The homebuilding industry is active right now, we’re doing very well, we’re seeing increases but our biggest problem right now is getting into the ground, pulling permits and staying dry.”

The Rochester Home Builders’ Association has reported increases in building permit applications during the first half of 2017.

Total building permits for Monroe, Ontario and Wayne counties were similar to the first half of 2016 with 344 single-family homes and 212 multi-family homes.

Ontario County had a small decrease to 132 building permits and Wayne County also had a slight decrease to 27 total permits, according to officials.

“It’s kind of a catch-22 system that we’re in: low inventory, which is always good for new construction, but then the weather and somewhat of a labor shortage,” Herman said. “There was so much pent-up demand on housing and so much that was going on in the markets after the recession that things are really starting to boom.”

Some hotspots for building locally include areas of the city that are being looked at for redevelopment and in the suburbs of Penfield, Perinton, Pittsford, Victor, Canandaigua, Farmington, Ogden, Parma and Webster, according to Herman. In comparison, areas that are not as active in building currently are around Gates and Irondequoit.

The earlier predictions for 2017 are largely panning out.

“We projected earlier in the year that 2017 would be similar to 2016 and I think with only a couple of permits being ahead of the game that just proves that we guessed right,” Herman said. “You never know—we don’t have a crystal ball, but we anticipate the year end will be pretty similar to 2016 and when we look at 2017 and then we see a little bit further of an increase in 2018.”

Issues for builders include a labor shortage—in the hundreds locally—for framers and masons. Compared to national rates, Rochester looks good in that regard, Herman says.

“I think we’re doing better than nationally,” he said. “We always kid about it we’re the steady Eddie of the real estate market and we do well. We’re probably at the hundreds of missing some masons and some framers and that, but you go to a larger metropolitan market and they’re really hurting.”

Sales of new homes gone up throughout the year, officials say. The home improvement and remodeling industry has also seen a strong increase in contracts the last 24 months.

“We have experienced a very active buying and building year,” said Joseph Sortino of Sortino Properties Inc. and chairman of the Rochester Home Builders’ Association in a statement. “Weather is always a factor in new home construction and this year has been a challenge. Unusual amounts of rain have caused re-scheduling of site work which causes delays. The demand from home buyers for newly constructed homes has been very strong again this year.”

Home buying and building is in demand; there are higher sales prices and homes for sale are receiving multiple offers. The trend is expected to continue due to the creation of more jobs and low mortgage rates, officials say.

Buyers are also open to more options.

“Buyers are becoming more competitive,” said Linda Wilson, president of the Greater Rochester Association of Realtors. “They’re getting preapproved, they know how much they can afford, they’re usually working more with realtors now because realtors can get them in there quickly and they’re being more prepared than ever before.”

Monroe County has a decline in the number of proprieties on the market in relation to last year.

“For the last couple of years we’ve seen historically low and trending down number of homes for sale and that creates lots of competition for the homes that are listed, which is an inhibitor to people actually getting into a home,” said Jim Yockel, CEO of GRAR. “Last year a lot of buyers became frustrated and just left the market completely.  (They) came back in the spring and it was just a super competitive market again.

“There are plenty of qualified, interested, anxious buyers who just can’t find a house that’s available,” he added.

Regional markets have had sales increases year-over-year.

  • Wayne (+4.5 percent)
  • Genesee (+12 percent)
  • Allegany (+52.4 percent)
  • Steuben Counties (+15.7 percent)

There were 1,597 houses available during the 2017 second quarter in Monroe County—down 37.5 percent as compared to the same period last year.

Housing market remains steady here, area experts say

Rents are more affordable in Rochester – rbj.net

Rents are more affordable in Rochester

by: Kerry Feltner

Rochester has more affordable rents than other cities across the country, a study by Apartment List Inc. found.

Rent growth here has remained stable in 2017 where other cities  have had increases and a small amount of cities have seen rents decline.

Rochester’s median two-bedroom rent of $920 is below the national average of $1,160, the report found. Nationwide, rents have grown by 2.9 percent over the past year.

While rents in Rochester remained moderately stable this year, other cities saw increases, including Seattle—up by 5.6 percent; Phoenix, up by 5 percent; and Dallas, up by 2.9 percent. Median two-bedroom rents in these cities go for $1,710, $1,020 and $1,110.

San Francisco has a median rent of $3,060—more than three times the price in Rochester.

The full Rent Report on Rochester can be found here.

Rents are more affordable in Rochester

Homeless, 84-year-old war veteran twins helped by Veterans Affairs, donations from community – foxnews.com

Homeless, 84-year-old war veteran twins helped by Veterans Affairs, donations from community

by: Travis Fedschun

Clifford and Gary Koekoek, 84-year-old twins who’ve survived fighting in the jungles of Vietnam and ended up sleeping in their car after a bank foreclosed on their California home, say they’re “grateful” for the outpouring of support they’ve received since their story went national.

Born in the Netherlands, Clifford and Gary grew up under Nazi rule before coming to the U.S., where the brothers worked in Hollywood and then served their new country at war. But the brothers faced a new challenge in October, when they ended up sleeping in their car after a bank foreclosed on their California home.

Since sharing their story with FOX 40 Sacramento, multiple homeless advocate organizations and Veterans Affairs reached out Friday to provide the twins with housing.

“These two gentlemen spent a lot of time out on the street struggling before we were able to make that connection, but we’re glad we were able to make it today,” said Ben Avey with Sacramento Steps Forward, a nonprofit agency with the goal to end homelessness in the region.

In addition to the new outreach, more than 2,500 strangers have also donated money to the brothers through a GoFundMe page, which totaled more than $101,000 as of Sunday.

“It made me proud to be an American citizen, that there are so many good people,” Clifford told FOX 40. In a previous interview, the twin said the situation was “a lot of stress” while holding back tears, adding: “I’d rather go back to the war and get shot at, than this crap.”

Gary said the response to their situation has been “unbelievable.” “I feel grateful,” he said.

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Rochester’s lead law spurs success; Toledo tries similar effort – toledoblade.com

Rochester’s lead law spurs success; Toledo tries similar effort

by: Lauren Lindstrom

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — At the end of a hours-long meeting that ran late into the night, city council members in Rochester unanimously voted in December, 2005, to adopt a controversial and novel ordinance aimed at reducing the number of children poisoned by lead in the city.

Now more than a decade and 141,000 inspections later, the number of children tested with lead poisoning in Rochester is less than a third of what it was the year the law passed.

“All of us feel a sense of ownership of this, that we did this together,” said Wade Norwood, whose last act in his 15-year tenure on Rochester council was to ensure the lead ordinance passed. “This was taking the city into uncharted territory.”

Rochester’s lead law has served as a model for health and environmental researchers across the country, as well as municipalities looking for a model to follow, including Toledo.

A city of about 210,000 in upstate New York, Rochester had more than 1,000 children test positive with lead poisoning in 2003, two years before the ordinance passed. County health officials there identified children with blood lead levels of 10 micrograms per deciliter or greater, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s level of concern at the time.

In Lucas County in 2015, there were 285 children with confirmed lead levels at or above the CDC’s current poisoning threshold of five micrograms or greater, a level that was revised after researchers determined lead exposure has caused damage in smaller quantities than previously known. Another 211 children tested with preliminary elevated levels, but did not receive a second confirmatory test.

Efforts by local health and advocacy groups prompted Toledo City Council to approve in August, 2016, a first-in-Ohio lead ordinance requiring landlords of older rental properties to test for lead, legislation modeled after Rochester.

Among the myriad health issues associated with lead poisoning according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: damage to a child’s brain and nervous system, slow growth and development, learning and behavior problems, and hearing and speech problems.

Rochester’s Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning, along with health and political officials, based their city’s law on prevention.

“Once a kid has lead in their blood, it affects how their bodies and brains develop; you can’t readily undo that damage. We’re really focused on preventing exposure in the first place,” said Katrina Korfmacher, an associate professor in the department of environmental medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center and a member of the coalition since 2001.

“To do that, you really need policy change because we as a society allowed lead to be painted all over our older housing stock.” she said. “It’s not the fault of the people who live there now; it’s not the fault of the people who own the housing now; it’s a problem we all allowed to happen. But in order to keep that lead from getting into kids, we need to maintain housing in good condition so the paint is intact, so that you don’t have lead dust on the floors so it can get in kids’ mouths.”

Much like changes in laws and practices that now require seat belts or discourage smoking while pregnant, a better scientific understanding of lead’s danger should prompt policy change, said coalition member Elizabeth McDade, who is also ‎program coordinator for the Rochester Safe and Efficient Homes Initiative.

“Our law was based upon the idea that you can’t rent a property, a home to children that has a neurotoxin in it,” she said. “You can’t open a restaurant that has a bubbling cauldron of biohazard in the middle of the restaurant floor, they won’t let you do that. We know what the [lead] issue is, we know how to fix it, let’s do that.”

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