BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Erie County Clerk Michael Kerns is out with a renewed warning about an issue that thousands of homeowners are facing across Western New York.
"We have been talking about this as a possible crisis. I believe we are in crisis today," said Kerns during a news conference Thursday. He attributes the unwelcome housing trend in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Numbers provided by Belmont Housing Resources show 4,530 homeowners in Erie County have received a pre-foreclosure notice in the last nine months. About a third of those have come just since March. The zip codes with the greatest concentration of notices are 14215, 14225, and 14150.
"What we have been seeing is basically every quarter, the numbers are doubling in the amount of people that are behind on their mortgages," said Sandy Becker, Senior Housing Programs Director of Belmont Housing Resources.
Officials want to make sure people who are behind on their mortgage payments know their rights, which is why they are reminding homeowners of their "Stay in Your Home" campaign. They say too many people are tempted to take a cash offer for less than market value just to make ends meet, or don't know what to do after getting a "summons and complaint" from their lender.
"A lot of times that's when people get freaked out and will tend to leave the home. You do not have to leave when you're served that summons and complaint. That's the very beginning of the foreclosure process," said Kate Lockhart, the WNY Law Center's Vacant and Abandoned Property Program Director.
Officials want to make sure people know they have access to free resources to guide them through their housing situation, with services like Belmont Housing Resources and the WNY Law Center.
"If you know somebody behind on their mortgage, or if you are behind on your mortgage, this is not something to be embarrassed about. Please reach out," said Becker.
A list of resources can be found on the Stay in Your Home website. You can also call the foreclosure "Stay in Your Home" hotline at 716-828-8429.
Becker and Lockhart say it is imperative to be proactive and not wait until it's too late.