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Just Thoughts is the blog of the Empire Justice Center, New York’s statewide, multi-issue, multi-strategy public interest law firm focused on changing the “systems” within which poor and low income families live. Here staff and guest authors will share stories, announcements and perspectives on timely issues related to our work.    

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Happy DAP Thank You Day!

Monday, April 28th is “DAP Thank You Day.”  Since there is a possibility that some folks don’t celebrate this holiday, we thought an explanation might be helpful.  Let’s start with the basics.

What is DAP?

New York’s Disability Advocacy Program (DAP) is a nationally recognized program that generates significant savings for New York State and local governments while also providing disabled New Yorkers with a stable income stream.  Through the DAP program, local advocates provide low income disabled New Yorkers in every county with legal assistance when their federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability (SSD) applications have been denied or benefits terminated.

When did this DAP thing start? Who does it help?

While DAP Thank You Day is a fairly recent addition to the holiday calendar, DAP has been around for a while.  DAP advocates have represented thousands of disabled New Yorkers since the program began over 30 years ago.  DAP clients are among New York’s most severely disabled adults and children—they are simply unable to navigate the complicated legal process without assistance.

If you are wondering if you know someone who has been helped by the program - yes, you probably do. While each case is unique and there is no “typical” client, an individual story can illustrate the importance of this program to the people it directly assists.

Meet Tom

Empire Justice Center’s DAP unit recently represented Tom (not his real name), a 28 year old man, who was suddenly unable to work full time.  As a child, Tom had several brain tumors requiring surgery.  As a result, he suffered a traumatic brain injury.  While the surgery saved his life, he was left with lingering effects such as learning disabilities, memory problems and seizures.  Tom’s parents were strong advocates for him during his school years.  He received special education services and eventually earned an Individualized Education Program (IEP) diploma.  Through diligent monitoring and medication management by his mother, Tom’s seizures were controlled well enough for him to obtain a job and work nearly full time at a restaurant where he was given special accommodations for his disability, including reduced production expectations and limited duties.
When both of Tom’s parents died unexpectedly, he was unable to adequately manage his medications on his own.  Tom’s seizures became more frequent, and his memory problems increased.  It became difficult for him to do his job; he repeatedly missed work or had to be taken off his shift, so his earnings were greatly reduced.  His utilities were shut off and he forgot to pay the tax bill on the house he inherited from his parents. Tom was in danger of becoming homeless.  Reluctantly, Tom applied for SSD benefits.  His application was denied, in great part because he continued to work as much as he was able.  Tom appealed the denial and sought help through the Disability Advocacy Program.

The DAP unit gathered medical evidence documenting Tom’s seizure disorder and contacted his employer for documentation about his increasing difficulties at work and the accommodations provided for him.  A detailed brief was submitted to the Administrative Law Judge outlining Tom’s claim.  After a lengthy hearing, the judge issued a fully favorable decision.  The decision was especially important in Tom’s case because receipt of disability benefits was a prerequisite for increased services. 

With the disability finding in hand, he applied for a supervised housing program for people with traumatic brain injuries that provides assistance with managing resident’s medications and with other daily activities including budgeting.  With the added support, Tom looks forward to getting back to work on a more regular basis.

I can see how DAP helps individuals, but how does it help the rest of us?

Despite the lack of holiday spirit displayed by that question, I’ll answer it.  Yes, there is something in it for you.

From a financial standpoint, DAP provides a great return on investment for New York State.  For every dollar invested in DAP, $3 are returned to the local municipality and state in the form of cost avoidance and interim assistance paid by the district.  Additionally, DAP clients receive millions of dollars in retroactive awards that are spent in communities around the state.  Simply put, DAP makes New York stronger.  In addition to the economic benefits just described, DAP moves individuals onto stable federal benefits, bringing much needed stability to their homes and families.
Why thank you? And will there be turkey on this Thank You Day?

In its recently approved budget, New York funded the DAP program at $7 million, the highest it has been funded since 2007.  On DAP Thank You Day we want to express our gratitude to all those who stepped up to the plate for our clients and for the state. This includes Governor Andrew Cuomo; leaders of the Senate Majority Coalition, Senator Dean Skelos and Senator Jeff Klein; Senate Social Services Committee Chair, Senator Tony Avella; Assembly Social Services Committee Chair, Assemblymember Michele Titus; Assemblymember Richard Gottfried; and Assemblymember David Weprin.  So, if you see any of these legislators, say “Thank you,” and tell them about DAP. 

Turkey?  Since this is a relatively new holiday, we have not yet worked out the traditional meal.  Feel free to send us your suggestions.

In the meantime, check out DAPWorks to learn more about how DAP works for New York State.

Tags: Disability Advocacy Program | DAP | disability | SSI | SSD

Principal Reductions in Mortgage Workouts are Essential to Reducing the Discriminatory Impact of Foreclosures

“Preserving an affordable home, in a stable neighborhood, for all Americans”—this phrase summarizes three key aspects of housing opportunity and the realization of the American dream.  The foreclosure crisis and the resulting recession, however, have undercut every aspect of this vision. 

Access to an affordable home with sustainable payments is out of reach for many more people today than before the crisis.  Millions of homeowners have already lost their home through foreclosure, are still at risk of foreclosure, or are stuck underwater with unaffordable mortgages as a result of the decline in housing values or lost income.  New York State alone currently has 122,544 mortgages in some stage of foreclosure, and another 197,507 that are seriously delinquent. [1] 

Moreover, due to stricter underwriting guidelines and other changes in the mortgage industry, the lower-income minority borrowers who are the potential purchasers most likely to help stabilize neighborhoods of color now have less access to affordable mortgages.

Our neighborhoods are at risk of instability and blight.  Worse yet, the neighborhoods that have seen the highest concentrations of foreclosures, resulting in higher numbers of vacant properties, are now seeing the steepest declines in housing values, putting many of these neighborhoods into a spiral of increasing instability and blight.

Rust-belt cities, like Rochester, Buffalo and Syracuse, which already had high numbers of vacant properties before the foreclosure crisis, are experiencing sharp declines in their tax bases, and may soon have to adopt triage strategies to stop the spread of blight.

The foreclosure crisis has had a disparate impact on African American and Latino homeowners and communities.   Foreclosures have not affected all homeowners and communities equally.  Since foreclosures are disproportionately concentrated in minority neighborhoods, and since all of homeowners living in those neighborhoods are impacted by foreclosures, African American and Latino homeowners are suffering disproportionately.  That’s because we live today with patterns of segregation that were established decades ago.  Because we live in segregated communities, African American and Latino homeowners are several times more likely than White, non-Latino homeowners to live in the areas most impacted by foreclosures. 

Minority homeowners either in foreclosure, or living in neighborhoods impacted by foreclosures, are suffering disproportionately from declines in housing values and neighborhood instability.

To get neighborhoods of color back on track, so they can share in the economic and housing recovery, we need to keep as many homeowners as possible in their homes.  This is especially true for the homeowners in the neighborhoods most impacted by foreclosures.

Principal reductions based on true value assessments are fair.

Requiring mortgage servicers to do principal reductions – based on the true (i.e., reduced) value of homes in impacted areas – will help us get back on track by keeping more owners in their homes, reducing  foreclosure-associated vacancies, stabilizing impacted neighborhoods, and thus reducing  the disproportionate impact of foreclosures and foreclosure-related vacancies on African American and Latino homeowners and neighborhoods.  Banks and servicers wouldn’t be losing anything, they’d just be recognizing the lost value of their assets that had already occurred.

Principal reductions must factor in the effect that HIGHER CONCENTRATIONS of foreclosures have on property values.  

True value assessments done in conjunction with principal reductions would result in a greater number of successful loan modifications and keep more owners from losing their homes.  But to do true value assessments, the impact of higher concentrations of foreclosures must be taken into account.  Neighborhoods with high concentrations of foreclosures [2] can be readily identified [3] and property valuations can be adjusted fairly.  If we fail or refuse to do principal reductions that take into account the greater drops in home values created by concentrations of foreclosures, it will be African American and Latino homeowners and minority neighborhoods as a whole who suffer. [4]

We can address the problem of concentrated foreclosures by urging federal policy makers to act.  The Federal Housing Finance Agency, the agency that oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, needs to begin to not only allow, but to require mortgage servicers to do principal reductions.  Congress needs to pass legislation requiring principal reductions and true value assessment.

Let’s make minority homeowners and communities of color equal participants in the nation’s housing recovery.

End Notes:
 [1] Empire Justice Center estimate using data from the CoreLogic, “National Foreclosure Report,” December 2013, as found at
 [2] Note, however, that zip code foreclosure totals alone are not sufficiently accurate for this purpose. For example, a suburban zip code with 350 foreclosures is not impacted as severely as an urban zip code with the same number of foreclosures, but which is 1/43 the size. (This is an actual example based on zip codes 14619 and 14580 in Monroe County, NY). Instead, the rate of foreclosures and geographic density should be taken into account. That can readily be done at the census tract level.
 [3] Empire Justice Center did this on Long Island. See our report.
 [4] These findings are based upon a data analysis conducted by the Empire Justice Center in New York State which included an evaluation of all foreclosures initiated in Rochester NY since January 1, 2009, mapping the foreclosures and linking the court records for each property to the city’s property information database, as well as census demographics for minority homeowners, in order to evaluate the characteristics of properties in foreclosure including location, concentration, case status, vacancy status and changes in ownership. 

Tags: foreclosure | minority homeowners | African American | Latino | neighborhoods of color | principal reductions | housing opportunity | FHFA