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Abusive-loan task force meets today

An interagency state task force appointed by Gov. Eliot Spitzer to fight abusive mortgage lending will hold its second major daylong conference today, with consumer advocates, government regulators, and industry officials convening to discuss the problem.

The summit by the governor's HALT task force -- or Halt Abusive Lending Transactions -- will seek to address problems such as high foreclosure rates, mortgage fraud and predatory lending that are plaguing some neighborhoods.

Three panels and two other presentations will review various perspectives, provide current research on the topics and discuss pending state legislation, called the New York State Home Equity Theft Prevention Act. Participants will include mortgage brokers, bankers, consumer and housing advocates, homeownership counselors, regulators, elected officials and law enforcement.

The free program will be held in the Frank E. Merriweather Jr. Library at 1324 Jefferson Ave. from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. State Banking Superintendent Richard H. Neiman and Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown will open the program, which is also sponsored by the Mayor's Anti-Flipping Task Force and the Western New York Law Center.

Spitzer announced the task force on May 18, charging it with creating statewide outreach and educational campaigns to assist the most vulnerable borrowers and proposing legislative and regulatory changes to expand consumer protections. To that end, plans call for a series of regional summits around the state, the first of which was held in New York City in April.

The task force is also responsible for analyzing foreclosure and lending data to identify borrowers and communities most at risk, developing loan or refinance programs to help those in trouble, and identifying those who benefit from the abuses so enforcement actions can be taken against them.

Already, the Division of Human Rights is investigating whether certain practices violate the state's civil rights law, and the State of New York Mortgage Agency has introduced a 40-year fixed-rate mortgage for first-time home buyers, while developing a refinancing program for certain low-income borrowers.

e-mail: jepstein@buffnews.com

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