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Subprime crisis still grips boro, Comrie says

City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) told St. John’s University students last week that he still is fighting predatory lenders in the wake of a subprime mortgage crisis that has caused thousands of borough residents, especially in southeast Queens, to lose their homes.

Unscrupulous lenders are continuing to push loans on individuals who cannot afford them, Comrie said at a forum on foreclosure at St. John’s University Friday.

“Predatory lending and payday loans are still prevalent,” he said. “We need to let the public know what’s out there for them. No one should suffer in silence anymore.”

There are a variety of government and nonprofit programs that can help individuals facing foreclosure, including Preserve Assets and Community Equity. Comrie worked with the mayor and area financial institutions on this program, which attempts to combat predatory lending through outreach, education, financial assistance and legal strategies.

“It was the first joint program between the city and the banking industry to deal with the crisis,” Comrie said.

He was joined by state Sen. Brian Foley (D-Hauppauge) at the St. John’s foreclosure forum, part of a day-long symposium sponsored by the law school and titled “The Fall of the Economy: How New York Can Rise to the Challenge.”

Leonard Baynes, a law professor who organizes the event, said they especially wanted the day to include a discussion on subprime mortgages since Queens has been especially hard hit. There were more than 12,000 foreclosure actions initiated in the city in 2008, with over 5,000 of those being in Queens. About 3,000 were in Comrie’s district, which covers St. Albans, Springfield Gardens and Cambria Heights.

The most recent statistics from foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac show there were 616 foreclosure notices in Queens in January, down by about 2 percent since January 2009.

Southeast Queens neighborhoods such as St. Albans, Springfield Gardens and Jamaica have the highest foreclosure rate in the state, although other areas like Fresh Meadows and Woodside also have seen increases in foreclosures.

“It really devastates communities,” Baynes said. “There are blocks and blocks with foreclosed homes.”

Baynes said students at the school’s elder law clinic will work with individuals who could lose their homes. Comrie’s and Foley’s office frequently work with people facing foreclosure and the St. Albans legislator said all state banks, including Chase and CitiBank, are conducting financial literacy programs.

Foley told the St. John’s students that those in law school can be particularly effective in fighting predatory lending.

“Through law schools and colleges, you can bring a greater amount of literacy and information to the public,” he said.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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