ROOF to boost efforts to buy back foreclosures

The aim of New Haven’s “Real Options, Overcoming Foreclosure” Program is twofold: first, preventing residents from losing their homes and second, buying back properties that have already foreclosed. So far, the program has not done much of the latter.

But Mayor John DeStefano Jr. has said that, in the coming year, he plans for ROOF to meet its goals.

ROOF, the city’s umbrella foreclosure-prevention organization, will expand its efforts this year by buying back foreclosed properties in critically affected regions of the city. DeStefano made a quick nod to ROOF in his “State of the City” address last week; since then, he has elaborated on his plans to mature the program, even while “recognizing that there are limits to resources,” he said.

“Up until now, the ROOF Program has largely focused on identifying households at risk,” DeStefano said last Wednesday. “The logical next step is to pursue intervention where foreclosure has already occurred.”

ROOF encompasses a conglomeration of existing housing programs, including the Neighborhood Housing Services of New Haven, the Greater New Haven Community Loan Fund and the Yale Law School. Project Manager Eva Heintzelman said this combined refocus toward already foreclosed on houses will prevent whole neighborhoods from collapsing under the strain of financially challenging times. By intervening in stagnant real estate areas, city officials can prevent one foreclosed home from dragging down the prices of surrounding homes and perpetuating the cycle of foreclosure.

“This has been something that we’ve been interested in for a long time,” Heintzelman said, though she maintained, “it costs a lot less to prevent foreclosure than to buy back property that may have deteriorated, and to then rehab it.”

Funding for this new focus of the ROOF Program will come from a $3.2 million grant provided by the federal government’s Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008; the act allotted $25 million to the Connecticut state government, which turned around and gifted $3.2 million to the City of New Haven.

Heintzelman said the funds from the act will be used to target critical neighborhoods in the city experiencing a “tipping point” of foreclosures that could irreversibly impede the local housing market.

ROOF officials are still collecting data to determine the regions in greatest need, but Heintzelman said it is safe to say the program will intervene in the neighborhoods with the highest concentration of foreclosures — Newhalville, Fair Haven, the Hill, West River, Dixwell and Dwight — as well as higher-income neighborhoods reaching their foreclosure “tipping point,” such as Beaver Hill and Amity.

In short, everywhere.

Ward 15 Alderman Joseph Rodriguez, who helped push foreclosure prevention legislation through the Board of Aldermen last year, said a foreclosure buyback program would be an effective measure — as long as the city partners with local entities when it sells the rehabilitated properties back to developers. Before city officials pass off homes to be resold, Rodriguez maintained, they should ensure that the property developers are companies “they can trust.”

“If the city is going to go into the business of purchasing foreclosed properties, they should work with local developments and sell these properties at a fair price,” Rodriguez said. “The neighborhood should be kept in the loop.”

According to RealtyTrac, a foreclosure data aggregator, there are currently 649 homes in New Haven are currently foreclosed or at a risk of foreclosure.

Comments