VA Secretary Announces Intention to Expand Mental Health Care to Former Service members With Other-than-honorable Discharges and in Crisis

VA Secretary Announces Intention to Expand Mental Health Care
to Former Service members With Other-than-honorable Discharges
and in Crisis

WASHINGTON – Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Dr. David J. Shulkin while testifying in a House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on March 7, 2017, announced his intention to expand provisions for urgent mental health care needs to former service members with other-than-honorable (OTH) administrative discharges. This move marks the first time a VA Secretary has implemented an initiative specifically focused on expanding access to assist former OTH service members who are in mental health
distress and may be at risk for suicide or other adverse behaviors.

“The president and I have made it clear that suicide prevention is one of our top priorities,” Shulkin said. “We know the rate of death by suicide among Veterans who do not use VA care is increasing at a greater rate than Veterans who use VA care. This is a national emergency that requires bold action. We must and we will do all that we can to help former service members who may be at risk. When we say even one Veteran suicide is one too many, we mean it.”

It is estimated that there are a little more than 500,000 former service members with OTH discharges. As part of the proposal, former OTH service members would be able to seek treatment at a VA emergency department, Vet Center or contact the Veterans Crisis Line.

“Our goal is simple: to save lives,” Shulkin continued. “Veterans who are in crisis should receive help immediately. Far too many Veterans have fallen victim to suicide, roughly 20 every day. Far too many families are left behind asking themselves what more could have been done. The time for action is now.”

Before finalizing the plan in early summer, Shulkin will meet with Congress, Veterans Service Organizations and Department of Defense officials to determine the best way forward to get these former service members the care they need.

“I look forward to working with leaders like Congressman Mike Coffman from Colorado, who has been a champion for OTH service members,” Shulkin added. “I am grateful for his commitment to our nation’s Veterans and for helping me better understand the urgency of getting this right.”

Veterans in crisis should call the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 (press 1), or text 838255.

Cadillac Hotel could go in new direction – Democrat & Chronicle

Cadillac Hotel could go in new direction

by: David Riley

A downtown hotel that often has served as a temporary home for homeless people may become an apartment building.

Mayor Lovely Warren is asking City Council to endorse an application for $500,000 in state funding to help turn the Cadillac Hotel into 56 market-rate apartments.

The roughly 90-year-old, eight-story building is at the corner of Chestnut and Elm streets downtown, near the city’s Midtown redevelopment project.

In a letter to council this week, Warren wrote that the developer wants to turn floors two through eight into apartments, with six studios and two one-bedroom units on each floor. The first floor would include 2,837 square feet of retail space and a lobby.

The project would cost $7.9 million, according to the mayor’s letter.

“The opportunity to redevelop the Cadillac Hotel building would serve to further revitalize Chestnut Street and contribute to increasing vitality in the East End,” Warren wrote.

It was not immediately clear who the developer is. Warren said Tuesday that the city could not release a name, but wanted to show support for the project in its early stages.

The company is listed in Warren’s letter as Chestnut Elm LLC. City spokeswoman Jessica Alaimo said Ron Zour is acting as property manager and development partner for the project.

Zour could not be reached for comment on Tuesday. An employee at the hotel declined to comment.

The Cadillac is owned by Ramji Inc., according to county records.

Warren has asked City Council to endorse a Rochester Economic Development Corp. application for funding from the New York Main Streets program to support the project. The corporation is a nonprofit closely tied to city government — its president is Baye Muhammad, commissioner of business and neighborhood development.

The developer has a purchase contract for the hotel, and has had discussions with the nearby Eastman School of Music about making apartments attractive to its students, Warren wrote.

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Housing Regulator Is Pushed to Crack Down on Sales of Foreclosed Properties – nytimes.com

Housing Regulator Is Pushed to Crack Down on Sales of Foreclosed Properties

by: Alexandra Stevenson and Matthew Goldstein

Lawmakers are pressing the nation’s housing regulator over the sale of thousands of foreclosed houses to investment firms that have pitched the promise of homeownership to people unable to get a traditional mortgage.

Some local authorities and regulators are taking legal action against several of these firms, accusing them of engaging in predatory business practices by reselling these often rundown houses “as is” through rent-to-own and other seller-financed transactions, sometimes known as contracts for deed.

Since the 2008 housing crisis, seller financing has become a lucrative business model as banks have largely stopped lending to lower-income families and the government has tried to sell a huge inventory of foreclosed homes.

Two of the nation’s largest firms in this business — Vision Property Management and Harbour Portfolio Advisors — have come under federal and regulatory scrutiny after a series of articles on them in The New York Times.

On Thursday, Representative Elijah E. Cummings, Democrat of Maryland, who sits on the House Committee on Oversight and Government, wrote to the director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, urging the regulator to stop Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the big government-controlled mortgage finance companies, from selling foreclosed homes to these firms.

Other lawmakers have raised concerns, too. During a Senate hearing on the future of Fannie and Freddie on Thursday, the F.H.F.A. director, Melvin Watt, was questioned about the sale of foreclosed houses to firms using contract for deed.

Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, told Mr. Watt that the agency should prohibit Fannie and Freddie from selling nonperforming mortgages and houses to firms looking to resell them through contract for deed. Mr. Watt promised that the housing agency would act to limit those sales.

“It would have to be on a going-forward basis, but we are actively looking at that issue now,” Mr. Watt told the Senate Banking Committee.

After the housing market collapsed nearly a decade ago, Fannie resold about 400,000 homes to investors, including more than 10,000 to firms that specialize in seller-financed deals. Some of those homes were sold in bulk transactions at rock-bottom prices. Fannie stopped such bulk sales in 2014. But firms continue to buy individual homes from Fannie on the open market.

In all, Fannie has resold 1.2 million homes since 2009, the worst year of the crisis.

For several months, Mr. Cummings, the ranking member on the oversight committee, has been focused on Vision Property Management, a rent-to-own company based in Columbia, S.C., which owns dozens of houses in Baltimore and more than 6,000 nationwide.

The Maryland congressman has been demanding documents from Vision since January, saying that he is concerned that it is duping poor consumers into rent-to-own contracts that become money traps. His office has spoken to Vision at least twice, according to correspondence the office made public, but those conversations have yielded little.

On Thursday, Mr. Cummings wrote to Vision and its chief executive, citing “grave concerns about the physical and financial well-being of tenants” with leases from Vision.

Mr. Cummings said Vision’s “limited document production to date has heightened concerns about the potential harm Vision may be inflicting on families in Maryland and throughout the United States.”

Valerie L. Hletko, a lawyer for Vision, said “the letter’s escalated rhetoric does nothing to assist Americans without access to traditional mortgage loans to achieve homeownership, which Vision works to do every day.”

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Foreclosure activity drops to lowest level since 2005 Market sees elevated share of repeat disclosures – housingwire.com

Foreclosure activity drops to lowest level since 2005

Market sees elevated share of repeat disclosures

by: Kelsey Ramirez

Foreclosure filings including default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions, dropped in April to the lowest level since 2005, according to the April 2017 U.S. Foreclosure Market report from ATTOM Data Solutions, a multi-sourced property database.

A reported 77,049 filings were recorded in April, down 7% from March and down a full 23% from April 2016 to the lowest level since November 2005.

“Foreclosure activity continued to search for a new post-recession floor in April thanks in large part to the above-par performance of mortgages originated in the past seven years,” ATTOM senior vice president Daren Blomquist said. “Meanwhile we are seeing an elevated share of repeat foreclosures on homeowners who often fell into default several years ago but have not been able to avoid foreclosure despite the housing recovery.”

Nationwide, one out of every 1,723 housing units had a foreclosure filing in April. However, in some states, that rate was much higher.

New Jersey held the highest number of filings with one out of every 562 housing units, followed by Delaware with one in every 706, Maryland with one in every 776, Connecticut with one in every 956 and Illinois with one in every 1,083.

In fact in New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts foreclosure filings actually increased by 1%, 29% and 3% respectively.

However, a new analysis of repeat foreclosure starts, shows them increasing. A repeat foreclosure start is defined as a foreclosure start filed on a property address-owner last name combination in 2016 with a previous foreclosure start on the same property address-owner combination in the last 10 years.

ATTOM studied five markets with its new analysis, showing the highest share of repeat foreclosures occurred in New York City at 54%, followed by Los Angeles at 39%, Miami-Dade County at 32%, Maricopa County, Arizona at 26% and Essex County, New Jersey at 20%.

A total of 34,085 properties started the foreclosure process in April, down 6% from the previous month and down 22% from last year. This is well below the pre-recession average of 77,000 foreclosure starts from 2005 to 2007.

Completed foreclosures came in at 25,990 for the month, down 9% from March and down 22% from last year to the lowest level since February 2015. This is just above the pre-recession average of 25,796 per month.

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Tackling Monroe County’s “zombie homes” – 13wham.com

Tackling Monroe County’s “zombie homes”

by: WHAM

Monroe County, N.Y. – It has been one year since Monroe County formed a task force to decrease the number of “zombie homes,” or vacant properties.

Now, that task force is taking action with two initiatives that were announced Friday morning.

The county’s vision is to increase the vibrancy of communities and part of that is by working together.

The task force will create a homeowners fair, which will be a proactive approach to help prevent people from losing their homes.

The county also wants to create a hub where banks and property owners can work together.

If for some reason someone has to walk away from their home, the task force can steer would-be vacant homes to non-profit groups for better use or for people in need.

“I think anyone who has ever lived near or next to one of these properties has experienced the loitering issues,” said Monroe County Clerk Adam Bello.

Rochester City Council member Jackie Ortiz agrees.

“The potential for drug activity and just the blight that it causes in the neighborhood is bringing down property value,” said Ortiz. “That’s exactly why we have this task force.”

So far, recommendations were made for 24 vacant properties and progress has been made on 17 of those homes.

The task force is also asking for the community to be involved. To report or make a recommendation on homes in the area, call the hotline at 800-342-3736.

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Ex-South Wedge motel now a mixed-use apartment complex – Democrat & Chronicle

Ex-South Wedge motel now a mixed-use apartment complex

by: Mary Chao

The South Wedge continues to grow with new retail and housing. Wedgepoint Apartments, located at the entrance to the South Wedge neighborhood, is now open for leasing.

The building features 68,000 square feet that will accommodate 60 apartments in a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom units.  In addition to the residential space, the property will also include 4,900 square feet of commercial space on the first floor.

What was formerly the site of a dilapidated motel is now a mixed-use complex. The first commercial tenant will be Fountain of Youth Fitness. Two additional commercial spaces are available.

The new project at 390 South Ave. was built on a vacant lot that had once housed the motel at the corners of South Avenue and Mt. Hope Avenue, said deputy housing administrator Josh Sankowski. The complex feature a courtyard, a rooftop garden and a recreation room on the first floor.

The area is on the edge of South Wedge, near the new  Abundance  Co-op. South Wedge has been an area of growth for retail with places such as Premier Pastry, Second Chic Consignment and other stores.

The apartments are available for lease with varying degrees of income requirement. For example, some of the apartments require that tenants make 60 percent of median household income in Monroe County while others require 90 percent, Sankowski explained. The median household income for a family of four in the county is $67,000.

Rents varied depending on size and income of tenants, but most were in the $520 range. The first tenants are currently moving in and there are four vacancies left, with a waiting list.

Katherine Samuel, 69, moved to Wedgepoint a month ago from Midtown Towers. She applied in September and is thrilled to be accepted.

“I love the Wedge,” Samuel said, pointing to the shops nearby. “The Wedge is upgrading. It’s good for me to be walking to places.”

Developed by Pathstone Pathstone Corp. — a nonprofit community development organization, the $16 million development is being financed through private and public resources, including the City of Rochester, New York State Home, New York State Community Investment Fund, New York State Housing Trust Fund, NeighborWorks America and the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program as well as The Community Preservation Corp.’s permanent loan funded through the New York State Common Retirement Fund.

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Willow Domestic Violence Center holds virtual ribbon cutting ceremony – Rochesterfirst.com

Willow Domestic Violence Center holds virtual ribbon cutting ceremony

The state of the art facility’s location is confidential

by: Abbey Noble

The Willow Domestic Violence Center held a virtual ribbon cutting ceremony to open a state-of-the-art facility Thursday.

A virtual ceremony was necessary because the location of the building is kept confidential to ensure the safety of the families using Willow’s services.

The brand new Shill Family Building makes Willow the largest domestic violence shelter in Upstate New York, doubles the size of its counseling center and includes a first-of-its-kind onsite pet shelter.

“This is not just bricks and mortar. This is about safety, it’s about healing and respectful spaces,” said President and CEO Jaime Sanders.

If you or anyone you know wants to contact the Willow Domestic Violence Center the hotline number is 222-SAFE.

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Pilot program would give NY college graduates money for homes –

GENEVA—First, it was “tuition-free” college at SUNY schools. Now New York is offering recent college graduates money toward the down payment of a home.

The “Graduate to Homeownership” program, launched on Wednesday, provides first time homebuyers who have graduated with an associates, bachelors, masters or doctorate degree in the past 48 months between $3,000 and $15,000 in down payment assistance if they buy a home in one of 8 specific upstate cities.

The $5 million program is first-come, first-served and open to those graduates who want to buy a home in the cities of Jamestown, Geneva, Elmira, Oswego, Oneonta, Plattsburgh, Glens Falls or Middletown. The program works in conjunction with the Downtown Revitalization Initiative that was announced for those same cities earlier this year.

The hope is that the incentive will encourage graduates to put down roots in upstate communities, bringing new energy and talent into cities that have struggled with “brain drain” in the past. “They graduate, they want to buy a house and it just seems insurmountable, that dream is so far in the future and we want to make that dream a reality sooner,” says Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul.

How much each individual graduate gets depends on how much the home costs. He/she will also be required to take a homebuyer education course. There is no requirement that the graduate stay in the house for a specific time period after purchasing the home and claiming the incentive. “On top of all of the school loans and things like that that I have, to have a program that offers to actually help you, to give you assistance with closing costs, it’s definitely something to look into,” says Deirdre Ware, a student at Finger Lakes Community College.

The $5 million program along with the $165 million “tuition-free” SUNY college program are funded by taxpayers in this year’s state budget.

Jennifer Lewke (News10NBC): “You have taxpayers on the other side of this issue that say, ‘I’m still paying my student’s college loans, I came up with money for a down payment to be a paying taxpayer here in New York State, why am I being asked to pay for other people’s gains?’ How do you respond to that?”
Lt. Gov Hochul: “We’re investing in people…To the people who are paying student debt from years past, I’m sorry that we didn’t have a program like this before, I’m sure you would have taken advantage of this but something like this has to start somewhere.”

“Graduate to Homeownership” is a pilot program. The state says if it’s successful and a lot of students sign up and have success, it may look to expand it in other cities during next year’s state budget process.

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Root out unfair housing issues – Democrat & Chronicle

Root out unfair housing issues

by: Editorial Board

Sometimes to uncover a case of housing discrimination, it takes a super sleuth. Or, in New York, it takes a “tester.”

This week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo launched the Fair Housing Program, and its goal is to uncover discrimination in rental and home sale transactions. As part of the program, the state’s Division of Homes and Community Renewal will use trained fair housing “testers” — people who represent different racial, gender, and economic backgrounds, parents and people with disabilities. Acting as potential renters or home seekers, the testers will check for discriminatory bias among sellers and landlords.

Forty-eight years after the Fair Housing Act of 1968 made it unlawful to discriminate in the rental, sale and financing of homes, based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status and disability, housing discrimination continues to quietly plague our community. Those who deny access must be rooted out and this program is a good tool in fighting a morally repugnant problem that is more subtle than it was 50 years ago.

The New York state Division of Human Rights recently reached settlements on 123 cases filed with the state alleging housing discrimination in 2015. In one of those cases, a potential tenant in Rochester filed a complaint that alleged a broker at a real estate firm denied her the opportunity to view and apply for an apartment because of her race, and made false assertions of unavailability to dissuade her from pursuing the unit. The broker was required to pay damages.

Sadly, news of housing discrimination cases statewide and locally comes as no surprise to us. Unite Rochester began reporting on the racial disparities in housing in our community in 2013, and there have been ongoing examples locally.

Last summer, for example, Empire Justice Center, a statewide public interest law firm, released a report that said African-Americans in Rochester are being disproportionately shut out of the local housing market. Black people are twice as likely — or even more, depending on their income bracket — to be denied mortgages when compared to white people who earn equal pay.  Also last year,  Five Star Bank settled claims that it had refused to give loans to people living in Rochester or predominantly minority suburban neighborhoods.

The benefits of the Fair Housing Program include more than potentially catching and punishing scofflaws. The information collected by testers could help raise awareness about the subtle but still damaging discriminatory acts that continue to exist in our community.

If the Fair Housing Program can raise awareness while helping to eradicate housing discrimination, it will contribute to making New York state a fairer, more welcoming state for all.

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$10M in neighborhood grants at risk – Democrat & Chronicle

$10M in neighborhood grants at risk

by: Meaghan M. McDermott

A federal funding stream that has poured more than $100 million into the Rochester-area economy over the past decade is in jeopardy as the Trump administration seeks to end a government grant program that injects funds into community and economic development projects.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant program, known in government parlance as the CDBG program, is a potential budget-cut target this year under a blueprint released last month by President Donald J. Trump. Eliminating the program would result in a national annual savings of $3 billion that could be spent on something else. The budget blueprint calls for boosting military spending by more than $54 billion, a 10 percent increase, that would be funded with equivalent cuts in other areas.

The Trump administration says it believes the tax cut plan it announced this past week will pay for itself through economic growth. So the likelihood is that the $3 billion savings from ending CDBGs would go toward the boost in military spending.

If CDBGs ends

The blueprint Trump put forward could change several times before a budget is finalized, and there are other potential program cuts that could impact the Rochester region. But cutting the block grants would be felt very close to home.

What would potentially be lost would be quality of life programs that the $3 billion supports now, including state and local government endeavors as varied as job training, parking lots, museums, housing repairs and infrastructure projects. Local and state governments, already strapped for cash, would have to make up the difference, if it were to be made up at all.

CDBGs also support Meals on Wheels, which got the lion’s share of attention last month after news broke of a possible federal initiative to eliminate the 42-year-old CDBG program. But, helping to provide meals to elderly shut-ins is just a tiny sliver of the federal dollars given to localities to improve overall quality of life for residents. An exclusive Democrat and Chronicle analysis of 2016 CDBG projects in Monroe County and the three communities here (Greece, Irondequoit and Rochester) that get dedicated funds from the program shows:

►While the bulk of the funds, more than $8 million in the fiscal year 2016, went to the city of Rochester, benefits also accrued to projects in more than a dozen suburban communities that do not get direct federal grants.

 ►Of more than $1.8 million provided to Monroe County, about a third was granted to towns and villages for fixes or improvements to their roadways, sewer systems, parks and public facilities.

►Nearly $1.4 million was provided to low- and moderate-income homeowners all across the county via direct grants and low-cost loans to make vital home repairs to roofs, foundations, windows or plumbing, heating and electrical systems. In Rochester, some of this money is also used to help homeowners eliminate problems related to lead-based paint, which has been linked to a range of health problems.

►Tens of thousands of dollars was used for initiatives that help senior citizens age in place and retain their longtime homes, including transportation and legal services, home safety assessments and installing bathroom handrails and grab bars.

Numerous officials say that if the funding stream dries up, they would face the difficult choice of asking local property taxpayers to shoulder an additional burden or doing without.

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