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Officials offer owners help avoiding tax foreclosures

City officials are urging nearly 2,800 homeowners and 360 commercial landlords to set up payment plans to avert losing their properties at a foreclosure auction this month.

The property owners have ignored multiple written warnings, spurring city administrators to issue an oral appeal last week. At sessions scheduled for this week, lawyers will help owners arrange payment plans and obtain court orders to prevent the sale of their properties.

Deputy Mayor Donna M. Brown, the city administration's chief crusader against poverty, says she believes many people are paralyzed by anxiety as they struggle to avoid losing homes and investment properties.

"Get out of the fear factor mode, because we know it's stressful," Brown said.

City officials are encouraging those who are delinquent in paying property taxes and garbage user fees to come to the Erie County Court Building at 25 Delaware Ave. on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. Experts will guide them through the process of avoiding foreclosure. Lawyers will be present from 9:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. on those days.

"We'll do anything we can to help these people," said Martin F. Kennedy, commissioner of assessment and taxation. In addition to the 2,794 residential properties and 360 commercial properties, the foreclosure list includes 1,187 vacant lots.

Kennedy said the number of properties is slightly higher than during a similar period a year ago. But he said he hoped many owners will settle their debts or finalize payment plans before the city's three-day auction begins Oct. 20 in the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center.

In the past 10 weeks, the number of residential properties on the foreclosure list has dropped by nearly 20 percent.

"People have come in and paid their taxes," Kennedy said.

More than 2,600 were put up for sale a year ago, and whether this year's total will be higher remains to be seen.

The global financial crisis is prompting some city officials to predict that local foreclosure rates could increase next year.

"The economy is going in the tank," First Deputy Mayor Steven M. Casey said, referring to turmoil on Wall Street and in worldwide financial markets.

Brown agreed, saying some local residents might face long-term fallout from the economic crisis.

"I think you're going to see new faces as it relates to poverty," she said.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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