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Home Matters: Winter 2020 Newsletter

Updated: Dec 16, 2020


Tonya Ores, NHS Brooklyn Executive Director

From the Desk of the Executive Director


Dear Friends,


2020 has been a year like no other. It began as a new year usually does: on a hopeful note. Then, before we knew it, our lives were transformed. Suddenly, we were using phrases like “unprecedented” and "the new normal."


Yes, a lot has happened since January—from the coronavirus pandemic to the demand for marginalized voices to be heard to a presidential election. Reflecting on these changes and our work here at NHS Brooklyn, I’m reminded of a quote by Kristina Safran:


"Sometimes knowing when something is not working and pivoting to something new leads to our greatest opportunities and successes."


Since 1982, residents have turned to Neighborhood Housing Services of Brooklyn (NHS Brooklyn) to learn about purchasing a first home, avoiding foreclosure, maintaining their home, landlord and tenant responsibilities, financing, and neighborhood revitalization.


When the pandemic struck, so many experienced financial and, in some cases, personal loss. As the quote underscores, being resilient in uncertain times and flexible enough to adapt to a changing environment became critical. Because our programs became more important than ever, we modified them to address our community's new needs and challenges. In this newsletter, you’ll read how.

We’ll also share our pride in our Housing Counselors, all of whom have now passed the arduous HUD Counseling Certification Exam. In passing this exam, our counselors have demonstrated a professional level of understanding of financial management; property maintenance; the rights and responsibilities of homeowners and tenants; fair housing laws and requirements; housing affordability; rental and mortgage delinquency; and how to avoid eviction and mortgage default. A great accomplishment by the NHS Brooklyn team and an enormous benefit to those we serve.


Our board has also changed. After 13 years of service, Mr. Alfred Payne has passed the baton of Board President to Mr. Serghio Adams, a resident leader who is committed to NHS Brooklyn’s mission. Mr. Payne has greatly impacted NHS Brooklyn’s work in the community and played an integral role in repositioning the organization to be stronger now and in the future. Please join us in thanking Mr. Payne for his contributions and in congratulating Mr. Adams on his new role.

Wishing you all safety, health, and wellness,

 

A Word from our Board of Directors: We can’t do it without you!


NHS Brooklyn Board of Directors

Greetings,


On behalf of the Board of Directors of NHS Brooklyn, thank you for your support of our mission to assist Brooklyn residents with their housing needs. In spite of the worst pandemic in a century, we continue to offer tenant counseling, home-buyer education, mortgage checkups, foreclosure intervention, home repair assistance, financial coaching, property insurance counseling, landlord training, and other programs.


Although there are no simple solutions in these unpredictable times, NHS Brooklyn is committed to responding to emerging community needs by providing critical housing resources.


Recent business shutdowns along with federal, state, and local government measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 have limited the ability of many tenants and homeowners to earn income. With tenants unable to pay rent and homeowners and small landlords unable to pay their mortgage, they face possible displacement at a time when shelter is of the utmost importance. This reality makes NHS Brooklyn's mission to deliver housing services to local communities more important than ever. Your tax-deductible gift of any size will help us continue our vital services.


Although we’ve been operating remotely since the onset of the pandemic, we have offered over 65 webinars to over 3,000 residents on a variety of housing topics and anyone can reach us by phone, email, via social media, and through our website during normal business hours. We also continue working closely with our partners to advocate for our community, which recently included launching a campaign to encourage funding of affordable housing and foreclosure relief programs.


What Can YOU Do to help?


As you read this newsletter in the comfort of your home, please think of those less fortunate. By supporting NHS Brooklyn, you can help spare your neighbors and their children the trauma of losing the family home or apartment at this crucial time in our lives. Here are three easy ways to donate anytime. Choose the one that's best for you!

Thank you in advance for your support.


Yours in Keeping,


Board of Directors

Neighborhood Housing Services of Brooklyn CDC, Inc.


 

Serghio Adams, NHS Brooklyn Board President

Meet our New Board President: Serghio Adams


Serghio Adams is the Chief Executive Officer at Brothers’ Building Blocks, a privately held health, wellness, and fitness education company. Serghio founded the company with the mission of providing high school and college students with tools to prepare successfully for their academic futures and for everyone to live healthy lives through a balanced diet and exercise. He is currently repositioning the company to be a national brand offering innovative programming that uses technology to attract, entertain, and educate.


Prior to founding Brothers’ Building Blocks, Serghio led college initiatives for the outreach department for Long Island University, where helped hundreds of high school students to earn up to 30 college credits before applying for higher education. During this time, he spearheaded partnerships with over 100 middle and high schools across Brooklyn to provide a pathway for students to earn college credits that they could leverage in applying for college full time. He was also Assistant Director and then Project Director of the Science & Technology Entry Program (STEP), the Collegiate Science & Technology Entry Program (CSTEP), and the Smart Scholars Early College Scholars Program (SSECHS).


Serghio holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, Psychology and Communications, and a Master of Arts in Political Science and United Nations Studies from Long Island University.


 

Help Us Help Your Neighbors this Holiday Season!


Home. The word evokes so many pleasant, loving images, and during these unprecedented times, our homes have become our havensa sanctuary, where we reconnect with ourselves and each other, home school our children, and share a meal.

But it's not that way for everyone. Because of COVID-19, many families are at risk of losing the place they call home. By the end of the year, mortgage moratoriums and renter stays will expire, and some of our neighbors will have to fight to stay in and keep their homes.


COVID-19 has had a disproportionate effect on the communities we serve, and they will be the ones who suffer the most. The hard truth is that individuals and families are facing displacement at a time when having a home is critical.


You can help them in their fight by making a meaningful donation to support our work keeping families in their homes and our neighborhoods thriving.


No amount is too small, and every dollar you donate helps to secure a vibrant, stable future for Brooklyn residents and communities.


Imagine the powerful impact you'll have when you support your neighbors.


NHS Brooklyn is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and donations are tax-deductible.



3 Ways to Help Us Help this Holiday Season!


1. Text NHS Brooklyn to 44-321.

Text "NHS Brooklyn" to 44321 to donate anytime!

2. Donate securely on our website


3. Shop on Amazon with Amazon Smile with NHS Brooklyn as your chosen charity.


However you choose to support NHS Brooklyn this season, you'll have our heartfelt thanks!


 

Congratulations to our Counselors!


NHS Brooklyn has always had a commitment to providing high quality, effective, results-oriented housing counseling. Our staff continues to raise the bar on professional competency and agency credibility, and inspire confidence with residents by complying with the HUD Final Rule that all of a nonprofit housing agency’s housing counselors be certified.


We are proud to announce that we are one of the only HUD-certified counseling agencies in NYC at which 100% of the counselors have passed HUD’s rigorous certification exam. HUD certification assures that our housing counselors provide informed, up-to-date counseling to those we serve.


As a HUD-certified housing counseling agency with professionally certified housing counselors, NHS Brooklyn is more prepared than ever to help Brooklyn residents achieve better credit, grow their savings, avoid foreclosure, and keep their homes.


 

Government & Community Relations

by Tyrone McDonald, Government & Community Relations Manager


NHS Brooklyn's Outreach & Impact


We are proud to have offered over 3,000 homeowners, tenants, landlords, future landlords, home buyers, and elected officials 80 webinars since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. These numbers do not include approximately 12 live events held prior to March 15, 2020, which drew over 250 attendees.

 
Eviction Moratorium

Eviction Moratorium


Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in March, Governor Andrew Cuomo, passed and extended executive orders halting the eviction of residential and commercial tenants to prevent countless New Yorkers from being thrown onto the street.


The latest among these measures is the Safe Harbor Act, a bill introduced by the New York Senate and signed into law on June 30. The law prohibits “the eviction of residential tenants who have suffered financial hardship during the COVID-19 covered period.”


The “COVID-19 covered period” began March 7 and will continue as long as the executive orders and other laws restricting public or private businesses and places of accommodation are in force.


The law does not cancel money judgments that landlords may seek as compensation for back rent or eliminate a tenant’s obligation to pay rent each month. The Safe Harbor Act ends January 1, 2021.


If you have questions about your rights as a tenant and how they apply during the COVID-19 pandemic, please call NHS Brooklyn at 718-469-4679 or visit www.nhsbrooklyn.org.

 
Mortgage Moratorium

Mortgage Moratorium


An order suspending foreclosure during the COVID-19 pandemic on homes with federally backed mortgages was recently extended to January 1, 2021. The extension is a positive step for homeowners in financial distress because of the ongoing outbreak, but it’s not the only step. Homeowners’ need for guidance is urgent, and NHS Brooklyn has been on the frontlines to support at-risk homeowners.


In May 2020, an estimated 4 million homeowners took advantage of the government’s mortgage forbearance program as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Some, however, did not; have questions; or are just scared.


Anticipating the challenges that many homeowners will face because of the COVID-19 crisis, NHS Brooklyn has offered 2 Town Halls, 10 informational webinars, and one-on-one counseling over of clients facing foreclosure, at risk of delinquency, or simply struggling to pay their mortgage. The events included explanations of and updates on the CARES ACT; financial resources; and information for seniors on reverse mortgages. We have also assisted clients in obtaining forbearance agreements and applying for loss mitigation options, including modifications, repayment plans, refinances, and one-shot deals. Every webinar included important information on how to recognize and avoid mortgage fraud and real estate scams.

 
Our Town Halls Go Virtual

Our Town Halls Go Virtual


2020 has been a roller coaster of uncertainty, with conditions affecting our lives changing at a rapid rate. To keep residents up to date on burning topics like eviction and foreclosure moratoriums, health information, and social benefits, such as unemployment, affordable housing opportunties, and Stimulus payments, NHS Brooklyn switched from offering in-person to virtual town halls. Held May 28, June 16, June 24, October 1, and October 8 in collaboration with local elected officials, community-based organizations, and community boards, our Town Hall webinars drew over 400 attendees. Each had a focus on either tenant or homeowner concerns.


For updates on future webinars on how the COVID-19 is affecting tenants and homeowners, please subscribe to www.nhsbrooklyn.org

 
Teaming up with NYCHA on Homeownership

Teaming up with NYCHA on Homeownership


The 2020 pandemic did not diminish enthusiasm for buying a first home. Quite the opposite! Which is why, in addition to our now bi-monthly home-buyer orientations, NHS Brooklyn has participated so far in two home-buying webinars, held on July 28 and September 30, geared specifically toward residents of public housing.


Over 200 tenants attended the webinars, many eager to learn about the home-buying process in general and the “Section 8 to Homeownership” Program specifically.


The seminars were sponsored by the Resident Economic Empowerment and Sustainability (REES) Department of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA).


The purpose of the REES Program is to provide NYCHA residents with resources to enhance their lives, including but not limited to entrepreneurship, home buying, financial education, and job training. NHS Brooklyn has partnered with REES for two years.

 
Helping Homeowners During the Pandemic

Homeowner Help During the Pandemic


“Would I be eligible for a forbearance?” “Should I stop paying my mortgage?” “Would a modification be the best option?” These are some questions for which homeowners sought answers, as COVID-19 raised fears about their ability to meet their mortgage payments going forward.


On May 21 and September 10, concerned homeowners on New York Avenue between Glenwood Road and Avenue H, and President Street between Franklin and Bedford Avenues in Brooklyn reached out to NHS Brooklyn to conduct a virtual “Help for Homeowners” webinar to address their concerns and other issues unique to their neighborhoods.


In addition to Angella Davidson, Program Director of NHS Brooklyn’s Foreclosure Intervention Program, licensed real estate broker and CUNY professor Trisha Ocona and New York State Assistant Attorneys General Elizabeth Lynch and Ladov of the Bureau of Consumer Fraud and Protection also presented. Topics include options for homeowners experiencing mortgage distress, avoiding real estate fraud, and what a real estate agent can and cannot do to encourage you to sell your home.


Program Director Angella Davidson explained the New York State Mortgage Moratorium, which homeowners were eligible for a forbearance due to the federal CARES Act, and fielded questions from the participants.


Already an issue before the pandemic, real estate fraud has only gotten worse. To help attendees recognize these scams, Assistant Attorneys General Lynch and Ladov described what to watch out for, warning that criminals may use the pandemic to defraud homeowners who are frightened and vulnerable.


As one- and two-family homes on President Street are snapped up and replaced by rentals six stories, homeowners are being deluged by developers with offers to sell as, with some using aggressive tactics. Ms. Ocona explained how to appraise the market value of one’s home and what a real estate can and cannot do when soliciting homeowners.


NHS Brooklyn has offered 640 homeowners mortgage, foreclosure, energy efficiency, refinance, and estate planning education in 14 webinars since March 2020.

 
Emergency & Disaster Prep Beyond the Pandemic

Emergency & Disaster Prep: Beyond the Pandemic


Hurricanes and heatwaves are events NHS Brooklyn encourages residents to prepare for every year. This year, we also offered two webinars dedicated to preparing for these potential life-threatening events.


The August 5 webinar was held right after Tropical Storm Isaias impacted our area. Elizabeth Malone, NHS Brooklyn’s Program Manager for Insurance and Resiliency, answered the questions of 37 homeowners about how to make an insurance claim for storm damage, how to know if your home is (or will be) in a flood zone, and the basics of flood insurance. Hannah Siegel of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene presented information on the signs of heat stroke, ways to keep your home cool while reducing your utility bill, and a free air conditioner program for income-eligible residents.


On September 16, we teamed up again with Tallant Burley of the Mayor’s Office of Resiliency and Sam Lawson of NYC Emergency Management to present the “Top 10 Ways to Prepare for Disasters & Emergencies during COVID-19” to 41 residents. Topics included knowing your flood zone and evacuation route, what is and isn’t covered by a property insurance policy, and how to find recovery resources in your community. New York City Emergency Management also explained new protocols in place to protect residents against COVID-19 should they need to evacuate to a shelter. Two Go-Bags were also raffled off as part of an overview of what to include in a Go-Bag.


NHS Brooklyn has offered 257 Brooklynites education on in 22 emergency and disaster preparedness webinars, including those focused on homeowner, renter's, and flood insurance.


 


Homeownership Education



As quickly as the world around us is evolving, so is the home-buying process. In recent months, interest rates have reached all-time lows, increasing demand for real estate. Pandemic or not, NHS Brooklyn strives to provide first-time home buyers the information and resources they need to make responsible, informed decisions when purchasing a home, and we’ve developed creative ways in recent months to move our mission forward.


According to Angella Cummings, Director of Operations, “At the onset of the pandemic, our team shifted to working from home, so we really haven’t slowed down. In fact, we’ve seen more clients than ever who are interested in home buying or re-financing their mortgage. Thanks to technology, we’ve been able to work with clients through webinars and conference calls. People can also participate in our online course offerings.”


NHS Brooklyn has held ten free, 90-minute First-Time Home Buyer webinars, with almost 1,500 participants! During these virtual events, we provide an overview of the home-buying process, our homeownership education program, grants, and how to assemble a home-buying team. We’ve also counseled over 200 new clients since March.


To keep up with demand, we’ve added a HUD-certified counselor to our homebuying program and are also referring clients to our 10-hour online home-buying course. To date, we’ve had a record number of home buyers complete the course.

Virtual Home Tour with NHS Brooklyn

In collaboration with Compass Realty and Citizens International Realty, we also held a Virtual Home Tour, a two-hour showcase of 8 buyer-ready properties, for twelve home buyers. A home inspector and mortgage lender rounded out the panel to outline next steps.


Even though the pandemic has changed a great many lives, buyers are still in the market to purchase a new home. For those with strong finances and job security, 2020 could be a smart time to purchase a home.


Financial education. For aspiring home buyers who would like help setting up a budget, building up their credit, and increasing their savings, NHS Brooklyn offers monthly Financial Coaching & Credit Improvement Webinars. Since the pandemic hit in March, over 500 eager home buyers have attended seven events, with another hundred having attended live workshops in January and February. Our December 10 webinar at 6pm will be geared to tenants. Register here to attend.


Are you in contract or have a closing date? If you're in contract or have a closing date, please complete this form and check "Fast Track" in the "For Home Buyers" section.


Interested in being a landlord? We offer the HUD-certified course twice a month that many banks require for a mortgage loan. Click here for more information and to enroll.


More information. NHS Brooklyn is here to give you the information you need to navigate today’s buying process as a first-time homebuyer. To learn more, please visit our website, RSVP for an upcoming Home Buyer webinar (seats are still available for December 15), or email us at info@nhsbrooklyn.org.


 

Tenant Support Services


Tenant Support During COVID-19

Tenant support is our most requested service, second only to homeownership education. The pandemic has further complicated an already complex situation involving tenants, as many of them not only struggle with nonpayment or lack of affordable housing, but now also face delays with government financial support, job uncertainty, and the closure of social service offices. According to a July Bloomberg Businessweek report, one out of four tenants in New York City hasn't paid rent since March.


NHS Brooklyn's Tenant Support Services Program assists with NYC Housing Connect; tenant and landlord mediation; rent stabilization recertification; rental vouchers and lease questions; tenants’ rights review; and applying for the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) and the Disabled Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE). Pre-pandemic, the most sought-after tenant service was assistance finding affordable apartments and housing in general. The pandemic has only exacerbated that need and the demand for assistance. In response, NHS offered 4 webinars geared to the needs of tenants. Over 300 attended, pointing to high demand for this information and assistance.


COVID-19 also brought new challenges for our counselors. For example, tenants couldn’t recertify their Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability (SSD). As a result, they couldn’t pay rent or other bills. In addition, many city and state government offices were closed and their employees relocated home. Tenants were directed to use apps like HRA Access to enroll in services such as SNAP and cash assistance. Those who were low-tech, who had no computer, or who lacked reliable internet service were stranded and could not apply for benefits.


In response, tenant counselors at NHS Brooklyn and other community-based organizations were forced to address the primary need (housing) as well as the secondary (applying for social service benefits) simultaneously, which often included creating the client’s first e-mail account.


NHS Brooklyn Tenant Counselor Sandra Tanner spoke of the dilemma faced by seniors considering retirement. Their high-risk jobs would put them at greater risk of contracting COVID-19; however, if they were to retire, their benefits would not cover basics like rent. "It's a difficult situation to be in," said Ms. Tanner. "Having to choose between health and making a living."


NHS Brooklyn counselors also noted an uptick in complaints over the summer of harassment, including tenants being harassed by the landlord or management company, tenants harassing landlords (mostly homeowners), tenants being harassed by neighbors, and roommates harassing other roommates to the point of police involvement.


The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly placed added stress on different aspects of life, including housing. The health crisis, which deepened a social crisis never seen in the City’s history, has prompted different sectors to take drastic actions, whether it be the call by housing advocates for rent cancellation, the passing of New York State rent relief assistance legislation for those impacted by COVID-19, extending the FHA foreclosure moratorium by the federal government, or the cancellation of eviction warrants in NYC until December 31, 2020.


If you are a tenant, please note: cancellation of eviction until December 31, 2020, doesn’t absolve our obligation to pay rent. Landlords are still able to seek money judgments in court. “If you are able to pay your rent, pay your rent to avoid problem’s later on down the line,” said Ms. Tanner.


Behind on your rent, have questions about your lease, or need assistance with NYC Housing Connect? Complete this form with the details to be contacted by a counselor, or call NHS Brooklyn at 718-469-4679.


 

Home Insurance & Landlord Training


Home Insurance: Answers to COVID-19's Effects

Let’s face it, in response to COVID-19, our homes have become our office, gym, restaurant, and classroom. Elizabeth Malone, our Program Manager for Insurance and Resiliency, provides some insights and answers on the pandemic's impact on home insurance.

The Basics


What is home insurance?

According to an article on PolicyGenius.com, “Home insurance is a type of financial protection that covers your home, personal belongings, and additional living expenses in the event the house is damaged or burglarized. It also covers legal expenses and medical payments if you’re held liable for an accident.”