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When a confluence of misfortunes left April Conlon three months behind on her mortgage, she turned to Western New York Law Center to help keep her in her home.

And when a relative of Robert Sanders, incapacitated by a stroke, couldn't pay for her home, he called on the Buffalo Urban League and found a way that she could stay in her home.

Sanders and Conlon accompanied State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman Tuesday during a news conference touting the success of the state's three-month Homeowner Protection Program, which supports counseling and legal services to curb foreclosures.

In its three months of existence, the program has helped 547 homeowners in the Buffalo Niagara region and about 3,600 statewide. And more than 220 local homeowners and 1,800 statewide have been approved for loan modifications or have them pending.

“The number of foreclosures across the Buffalo region is troubling,” Schneiderman said.

But it's not just about statistics, he said. It's a blow to the family and community because it lowers home values and increases crime rates, along with other negative effects.

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 4,245 loans are in foreclosure in Western New York and another 7,592 are 90 days or more delinquent.

But one out of two people facing foreclosure don't seek legal assistance, largely because they are unaware of their options, Schneiderman said. He said the free housing and legal counseling provided through the program can reverse the “vicious cycle” of foreclosures.

The program is funded through Schneiderman's initiative that supports four Western New York housing counseling groups and three legal-services organizations, including the Western New York Law Project and Buffalo Urban League, with more than $1.1 million to provide free housing counseling and legal services and other foreclosure-prevention efforts to local homeowners.

The funding is part of part of the three-year, $60 million statewide program. Schneiderman also announced a 24-hour, toll-free help line, (855) 466-3456, for homeowners in trouble, and he encouraged residents to call if they are having or foresee having problems keeping up with their mortgage payments.

“Don't wait until you're under water to get help,” he said.

Last June, Schneiderman implemented the program when funding for counseling and legal services were being cut. Sandy Becker, senior housing programs manager for Belmont Housing Resources for Western New York, said the funding from the Homeowner Protection Program came “in the nick of time” because Belmont was in the midst of laying off housing counselors.

For Sanders and Conlon, the assistance was right on time.

Conlon was going through a divorce, laid off from work and pursuing a doctorate in pharmacology when she fell behind on her mortgage for the Hamburg home she had owned for 21 years. She broke down recounting the day she was faced with a foreclosure notice.

But with the assistance of the Law Center, her mortgage payment was modified from $675 to $340 with principal and interest, and her interest rate fell from 7.625 to 2 percent.

Sanders' relative went from owing $40,000 to $8,000 on her home after a loan modification, and she has since paid it off. He said she went from losing her home to now “eating steaks.”



email: esapong@buffnews.com