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Kearns seeks CARES Act funding for foreclosure prevention program

Erie County Clerk Michael P. Kearns is asking the county to allocate $500,000 in funding from the CARES Act so his office can coordinate a foreclosure prevention program geared to help county residents who can't keep up with their mortgage payments because of job and business disruption stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.

In a letter sent Wednesday to Erie County Budget Director Robert W. Keating, Kearns said he would use the funds to hire a third party that would provide free legal counsel to county residents facing "economic hardship" resulting from Covid-19.

The selected provider would reach out to those in need of legal counseling, plan out pre-litigation strategies, consult with residents on mortgage forbearance and loan modifications, represent them during any foreclosure proceedings, provide resources to help them appear in court remotely and advise the heirs of any borrowers who died from Covid-19.

He noted that federal initiatives to provide mortgage forbearance apply to only a portion of federally insured mortgages, but don't cover "all loan types," and he cautioned about "many financial pitfalls regarding forbearance of which eligible borrowers should be made aware."

Kearns said his existing Foreclosure Task Force "is poised to coordinate these services" because it has already been working to fight foreclosures and "zombie" properties. He suggested that his office could provide "meaningful support" by using less than 0.5% of the county's CARES Act funding.

"In the coming months and years, the economic hardships of Covid-19 will be a grim reality for thousands of Erie County residents," Kearns wrote. "Simply put, one in four residents will be waking up each day to face the struggle of their lifetime. We anticipate foreclosures will be on the rise in the Erie County Clerk's Office at a rate which modern memory cannot recall."

Kearns said he would issue a request-for-proposals for the services on May 11, and expects the program would extend through the end of 2020.

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