Old Astoria Neighborhood Association calls for relief of small landlords’ mortgage payments as tenants receive assistance

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced he is implementing a 90-day stop to all evictions for residential and commercial tenants on Friday, March 20 due to the COVID-19 pandemic — after the Old Astoria Neighborhood Association (OANA) called for specific relief of small landlords’ mortgage payments.

“We request urgent action to address pressing mortgage payments for residential real estate, in light of the economic slowdown caused by COVID-19,” OANA wrote in an op-ed last week. “Specifically, we’d like to emphasize such urgency as it pertains to single family units, condos, co-ops and one to three multifamily buildings.”

OANA added that while they support relieving tenants from evictions, “it cannot be at the expense of homeowners and landlords if we want the private sector to continue to provide single [or] multifamily housing units.”

“Whether the owner has lost their own job (affecting single family, condos or coops), or lost income from their tenants (in multifamily buildings), the repercussions of failed mortgages can lead to disaster,” OANA wrote.

The Astoria-based non-profit cited Wells Fargo as a private bank that was only “offering a one-time relief of any penalties for late or non-payment of a mortgage” but are still reporting it to the credit bureaus.

A Wells Fargo spokesperson told QNS that the company is working on a daily basis to provide support for their customers impacted by COVID-19. But they added that they need to speak to customers directly to help them.

“We are providing assistance including fee waivers, payment deferrals, and other expanded assistance for credit card, auto, mortgage, small business and personal lending customers who contact us, and we will continue to communicate with customers as the situation evolves,” Wells Fargo said in a statement.

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (who represents Astoria) led a request for a moratorium on all foreclosures and eviction with a letter signed by 106 Congress members, including Queens Congress member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Nydia Velazquez and Gregory Meeks, on Wednesday, March 18.

The letter called for the immediate, nationwide moratorium on all foreclosures and evictions from properties owned, insured, or overseen by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) in light of the developing coronavirus epidemic.

Those federally-backed agencies make up more than 60 percent of all mortgages in the United States.

A spokesperson from Maloney’s told QNS that this will also apply to small landlords who can’t pay their mortgages due to the pandemic. A few hours after that letter was sent, the White House’s administration announced HUD would suspend foreclosures and evictions insured by FHA for at least 60 days.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency also ordered Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to suspend foreclosures and evictions for any enterprise-backed single-family mortgages.

“The announcement that the Administration has agreed to my request to suspend foreclosure and eviction actions should start to provide some relief to members of the Old Astoria Neighborhood Association,” Maloney said in a statement. “I am also calling on private lenders to suspend foreclosure and eviction actions.”

Wells Fargo told QNS that they have “temporarily stopped all foreclosure-related activity for loans” they hold.

On March 20, OANA President Richard Khuzami thanked Gov. Cuomo for addressing the issue and providing more guidelines, such as waiving mortgage payments based on financial hardship, no negative reporting to credit bureaus, grace period for loan modification, no late payment fees or online payment fees, and postponing or suspending foreclosures.

Cuomo also asked the Department of Financial Services to instruct state chartered banks to waive ATM fees, late fees, overdraft fees and fees for credit cards.

“Making common sense directives to reduce the burden we are all facing with the pandemic makes a positive resolution that much more possible,” Khuzami wrote in an op-ed. “We thank all our officials, especially the local and [state] elected, for taking responsible actions for the betterment of all. Let’s finish the job, and defer the rental payments also.”