Thursday, November 12, 2009

Aid for homeowners and jobless on the way

nys unemployment

As news that the national unemployment rate has climbed to more than 10 percent, the highest since 1983, further cements the reality of a hard-hitting recession, help from the Obama administration and Fannie Mae is on the way to assist jobless Americans, struggling businesses and homeowners facing foreclosure.

A stimulus measure recently approved by Congress would extend unemployment benefits for many to a total of two years and raise the maximum for state and federal compensation to 99 weeks.

It would give up to an additional 14 weeks of coverage to those who can no longer claim benefits. Payments given under the extension will begin on the week ending Nov. 15. They will not be made retroactive, so those whose benefits run out prior to the week ending Nov. 8 will not be eligible.

The legislation would also give 20 more weeks of coverage to people who are living in the approximately 26 states where the unemployment rate has exceeded 8.5 percent, including New York.

“It will certainly generate money throughout the economy and create more jobs just by virtue of the fact that those additional monies will be spent,” said Jeff Weissenstein, one of the State Department of Labor’s analysts for New York City. “Naturally, any additional income for individuals who are out of work is welcome.”

The national unemployment rate rose from 9.8 to 10.2 percent in October, raising the total number of unemployed persons by 558,000 to 15.7 million. More than 35 percent of the unemployed were jobless for 27 weeks or more, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

For September, the latest month for which the state has released data, the Queens jobless rate was 9.1 percent, compared to 5.2 percent in September 2008. In New York City, it climbed from 6 percent to 10.3 percent in the same period, and in New York State, it rose from 5.8 percent to 8.9 percent.

The new federal bill would also help people who are buying a home for the first time by extending an $8,000 tax credit, which was set to expire on Nov. 30, and allowing those who sign a contract before May 1 on a home priced up to $800,000 to be eligible.

“It has helped us in the past and it will continue to help us in the future,” said Kenny Sattaur, a real estate agent with RE/MAX in Rosedale, who says 95 percent of his clients are first-time homeowners. “It has played a large role in the amount of homes that we have been able to sell. First-time homeowners are scared, and they use this money as a security blanket.”

In addition, a $6,500 credit will be available to homeowners who have lived at the same residence for at least five of the last eight years in order to assist them in purchasing a new dwelling.

Those attempts to further stimulate the housing market will also raise the minimum income applicants can earn in order to qualify— from $75,000 to $125,000 for individuals and $150,000 to $225,000 for couples.

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” said Lynn Nunes, the owner of Five Star Realty in Richmond Hill. “It won’t be the silver bullet that will solve all the housing woes but it’s better to have it than not to have it. It encourages people to purchase property now rather than later and to take advantage of the incentives being offered.”

Nunes says only some of his clients are aware of the stimulus measure, but he encourages those who are on the fence about buying a home to consider taking advantage of the offer, especially since interest rates are at a historic low. “If your finances are in order and you want to buy a home, now is the ideal time,” Nunes said.

For the third quarter of 2009 home sales in Queens climbed 31 percent compared to the second quarter, which demonstrates an increase in real estate confidence, according to Prudential Douglas Elliman, the city’s largest real state firm, which compiles the quarterly market reports.

Struggling businesses will also get some relief through the measure. It can assist them in getting tax refunds by allowing them to deduct losses for 2008 and 2009 from the last five years in which they have made a profit. Previously, they could only deduct losses from the last two profitable years.

Fannie Mae, meanwhile, has created a new program called Deed For Lease allowing homeowners who are in danger of being evicted to surrender the deed to their home in exchange for a lease agreement, which would allow them to rent the residence for one year at a local marketable rate with the possibility of renewals on a month-to-month bases after that period.

“It’s a phenomenal idea,” said Nunes. “It gives people the opportunity to get their life back in order and have some stability. It also prevents us from having property that is in disrepair or goes uninhabited for years. They should have come up with it a long time ago.”

The goal of the program is to reduce the displacement families experience when their property is seized by a lender. The occupants still lose ownership of the house but unlike a typical foreclosure they can reside within the residence during the transitional period. Another benefit is the reduction in cost, since the rental payment is usually far less than the mortgage payment in most cases.

“The Deed for Lease Program provides an additional option for qualifying homeowners who are facing foreclosure and are not eligible for modifications,” Jay Ryan, vice president of Fannie Mae, said in a statement. “This new program helps eliminate some of the uncertainty of foreclosure, keeps families and tenants in their homes during a transitional period, and helps to stabilize neighborhoods and communities.”

To be eligible for the program, the homeowner’s mortgage has to have been guaranteed by Fannie Mae and the home must be the primary residence. In addition, the applicant must be unable to qualify for other assistance such as the loan modification program created by the Obama administration.