Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Holiday Savings Ideas

Here are some ideas to help you save money this holiday season:

  1. Make a budget and stick to it:  Before you decide who you need to buy gifts for, figure out how much you can afford to spend on gifts.  Don’t forget to factor in your normal expenses (food, gas, rent, etc.) and make sure not to overextend yourself financially.  Once you have decided how much you are spending, then you can decide how much to spend on each person.
  2. Cash, not credit: Using cash can help you avoid breaking your budget.  When you start doing your holiday shopping, take out the amount of cash you intend to spend.  When the cash runs out, you’re done shopping.  In addition, using cash helps you better understand how much money you are spending, because you are literally handing over the money, rather than swiping a card and seeing numbers on a receipt.
  3. Trim down your gift list: If there are people on your list you don’t really need to shop for, don’t.  Also consider implementing a Secret Santa tradition in your family so that you don’t have to shop for everyone.  For a family, consider buying a gift basket with something for everyone in it.  Consider teaming up with another family member to shop for relatives.
  4. Get creative: Spending a lot of money isn’t the only way to show you care.  Smaller items with emotional significance can be much more effective and cost-effective than an expensive gadget.  If you are a creative person, consider making something yourself.  It’s the thought that counts.
  5. Shop around: Start shopping early so that you can have time to comparison shop.  Look online for deals and make sure to get store flyers to check for the best deals.  Taking the time to get the best price can wind up saving you a bundle this year.

New Foreclosure Law Expected to Be Signed Shortly by Governor

New protections for homeowners facing foreclosure as well as tenants living in foreclosed homes will take effect within two months after the governor signs Governor’s Program Bill #46, which was passed by the NYS Assembly and Senate on November 16th.  The governor is expected to sign the bill in the next few weeks.

Homeowners in default can expect to get a 90-day pre-foreclosure notice, enabling the homeowner to consider his or her options without imminent threat of a foreclosure.  Information about local housing counseling agencies, like TRIP and RCHR, will be provided to encourage the homeowner to seek assistance. 

Another key provision for a homeowner is the right to have a “mandatory settlement conference” with her/his lender (or their representative) in court, where both parties must “negotiate in good faith” during this mediation session.  Lenders may not charge the homeowner a fee for attending a settlement conference and may be subject to sanctions if they fail to come with financial documents and other information required by mediators.  

Additionally, when lenders notify the state of an impending foreclosure action, the state must send the borrower’s name to housing counseling agencies, which can then help prepare the borrower in advance of its settlement conference.  The settlement conference provision stems from the hope that lenders will be more apt to work with borrowers to modify their loans; currently lenders claim they are overwhelmed by requests for modifications while homeowners complain that their cases drag on for months and months, putting them further behind in their payments.  

The legislation also includes important protections for tenants of buildings that go into foreclosure, requiring that a separate notice be delivered to tenants within 10 days of the service of the summons and complaint to the mortgagor (borrower). The notice informs the tenants that the building is in foreclosure and that they may have the right to stay in occupancy for the remainder of their lease term, of if they have no written lease, for ninety days after they are informed of the name and contact information for the new owner by the person or entity who takes title. Tenants in 1 to 4 unit buildings must be sent the notice individually; for larger apartment complexes, the notice must be posted outside each exit and entrance.  

In order to avoid the deterioration that can impact an entire neighborhood when a foreclosed home is not kept up, a provision of the legislation requires the plaintiff (lender) in a foreclosure action to maintain the property (consistent with NY property maintenance code) after the judgment of foreclosure is issued and until the property is sold.  If a tenant occupies the property, the property must also be maintained in a safe and habitable condition.  This provision may be enforced by the municipality, tenants, or a homeowners association, in applicable.

To prevent distressed homeowners from falling prey to “rescue scams,” the bill also includes provisions prohibiting “distressed property consultants” from taking any payment before completion of services.

This legislation creates new legal rights and responsibilities.  The foregoing article is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice. If you are involved in a foreclosure action you should seek the advice of an attorney to understand how this legislation impacts your situation. Homeowners facing foreclosure can contact TRIP’s HomeOwnership Center at 690-0020 for assistance in determining their mortgage options and/or can contact Legal Aid directly at 462-6765.

For more information about the new State legislation providing foreclosure protections, contact TRIP at 272-8289 x214 or hilary@triponline.org.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Christmas in Little Italy

There is an old Italian saying “to get what you want, you must share what you have.” The residents and businesses of Troy’s Little Italy invite the people of the Capital District to share in our love for our Italian heritage and our spirit of Christmas by attending Christmas in Little Italy” to be held on Saturday, December 5, 2009, beginning at 5:30 pm at Liberty Square (Fourth and Liberty Streets) on the evening before Troy’s Victorian Stroll.

Our event begins with the display of an eight foot Ceppo (an Italian Christmas tree) at Liberty Square along with a community Christmas tree donated by the DeFazio family. The Ceppo, a three tiered pyramid shaped structure made of wood, has its origin in the Tuscan region of Italy. A Nativity scene donated by St. Anthony of Padua Shrine Church, representing the gift of God, is displayed on the bottom shelf. The remaining two shelves contain greenery, fruits, nuts, and presents representing the gifts of the Earth and Man. There will be Christmas carols sung in both Italian and English led by members of a local school choir. Musical accompaniment will be provided by Historic Second Street neighbor John Chupka on accordion. There may be several other musicians announced soon. Roasted chestnuts will be available at the site compliments of Chef Michael LoPorto. 
The timeless Italian Christmas folk story of the legend of Old Befana, based on author Tomie DePaola’s popular childrens’ book, will be read by Claire Davis of the Osgood neighborhood. The reading will be held at Lisa’s Gelateria (across the street from Liberty Square) while you enjoy holiday treats and hot beverages. Holiday cookies and candy will be provided for each child attending the event.

At 7 pm, Professor/Cavalier Philip J. DiNovo, founder and President of the American Italian Heritage Association, (our “Dr. Phil”) will give a presentation on Italian Christmas traditions in the meeting center of the Freihofer’s Run for Women building a block south of Liberty Square at the corner of Fourth and Washington Streets. The event concludes with a showing of the entertaining film, Pinocchio, at Flavour’s Café across the street from the meeting center.

Several neighborhood restaurants, including Carmen’s Café, DeFazio’s Pizzeria, Flavour’s Café, the Irish Mist, Lisa’s Gelateria, and the Red Front Restaurant and Tavern, welcome your patronage on the night of the Christmas in Little Italy event if you choose to dine before or after our program.

On Sunday, December 6th, the day of the Victorian Stroll, volunteers from Troy’s Little Italy will join with representatives of the Italian Community Center and the CYO Center at shared information tables in the Troy Atrium between the hours of 11 am and 5 pm. We will provide a continuous showing of our neighborhood history DVD. There will be a book signing of Troy’s Little Italy, as well as copies of Tomie DePaola’s The Legend of Old Befana on sale. In addition, a Silent Auction will be held on the second floor level of the Atrium outside the Bingo Hall to benefit the “Adopt a Family Fund” being sponsored by volunteer workers from the St. Anthony and Troy Little Italy bingo players with the support of various local businesses. Troy Little Italy will hold Bingo at 2 pm – doors will open at 10 am! Join us for a pleasant weekend of Christmas and holiday traditions.
--Mike Esposito 
Originally published 11/29/09 in The Troy Record as TRIP's Troy Treasures column, which runs in every other Sunday edition. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Buttoning Up Your House

Thanks to additional funding provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), also know as federal stimulus money, about 300 homes in Rensselaer County will be weatherized between now and April 2011.  Eligibility is based on income limits; for example, a family of four whose household income is no more than $3903/month or $46,836/year would be eligible.  Additionally, anyone receiving public assistance, rent subsidies, HEAP, or SSI is automatically eligible.  All services are provided without obligation to the occupant of the home; however owners of rental buildings are required to contribute funds.

Weatherization activities average about $6500 per unit and typically will include air sealing and insulating, particularly walls, attics, and basements that lead to living spaces.  Occasionally, replacements of furnaces, refrigerators; doors; and less often, window replacements, may be warranted.  These activities are determined by a state requirement that the “Savings to Investment” ratio is 1 or higher, which formula values less costly activities such as limiting air flow over more costly window replacements.  Other common activities include replacing all incandescent lightbulbs with compact fluorescent lights, creating savings by switching lights from 60-watts or more to 13 –watt bulbs. 

To apply for this program, contact The Commission on Economic Opportunity at http://www.ceo-cap.org/cmt/files/WAP_Brochure_Guidelines.pdf or call CEO at (518) 272-6012 x290.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Loan Modification Scam Alert

Loan Modification Scam Alert

It's a growing problem across the country: Homeowners facing foreclosure are losing their money – and their homes – to loan modification scams. Information is your best defense. If you see the signs of a scam and know the facts, you can protect yourself.  Scams aren't always easy to spot – but it helps if you know the warning signs to look for. Here are six red flags to indicate that you may be dealing with a loan modification scammer: click here: How to Spot a Scam.

If you or someone you know suspects they may be victim of a scam, there is help. The Hope Hotline, 888-995-HOPE, is the point of contact for homeowners seeking assistance, protection and information on loan modification scams. For information on the Most Common Loan Modification Scams click here.

The "Loan Modification Scam Alert" campaign, launched on October 26, educates homeowners about loan modification scams and empowers them to protect their homes. The Homeowner's HOPE Hotline, 888-995-HOPE, is the central point of contact for homeowners who think they may be a victim of a scam.

Experienced counselors that serve on the Hotline will help remedy the situations of those who have fallen victim to scams. These counselors will then connect homeowners with other resources including a member of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law for free legal assistance, as well as the official loan modification scam alert website at www.LoanScamAlert.com.

Scam victims will be connected to seasoned HUD-approved housing and loan modification scam counselors and homeowners will also have free access to pro-bono attorneys who will review their case and work closely with state AG offices, the FTC, as well as local law enforcement to prosecute cases as appropriate.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Home Buyer Tax Credit

The Worker, Homeownership, and Business Assistance Act of 2009 has extended the tax credit of up to $8,000 for qualified first-time home buyers purchasing a principal residence. It also authorized a tax credit of up to $6,500 for qualified repeat home buyers.

$8,000 First-time Home Buyer Tax Credit at a Glance
  • The $8,000 tax credit is for first-time home buyers only. For the tax credit program, the IRS defines a first-time home buyer as someone who has not owned a principal residence during the three-year period prior to the purchase.
  • The tax credit does not have to be repaid, unless the home is sold within 3 years following the purchase.
  • The tax credit is equal to 10 percent of the home’s purchase price up to a maximum of $8,000.
  • The tax credit applies only to homes priced at $800,000 or less.
  • The tax credit now applies to sales occurring on or after January 1, 2009 and on or before April 30, 2010. However, in cases where a binding sales contract is signed by April 30, 2010, a home purchase completed by June 30, 2010 will qualify.
  • For homes purchased on or after January 1, 2009 and on or before November 6, 2009, the income limits are $75,000 for single taxpayers and $150,000 for married couples filing jointly.
  • For homes purchased after November 6, 2009 and on or before April 30, 2010, single taxpayers with incomes up to $125,000 and married couples with incomes up to $225,000 qualify for the full tax credit.
The $6,500 Move-Up / Repeat Home Buyer Tax Credit at a Glance
  • To be eligible to claim the tax credit, buyers must have owned and lived in their previous home for five consecutive years out of the last eight years.
  • The tax credit does not have to be repaid, unless the home is sold within 3 years following the purchase..
  • The tax credit is equal to 10 percent of the home’s purchase price up to a maximum of $6,500.
  • The tax credit applies only to homes priced at $800,000 or less.
  • The credit is available for homes purchased after November 6, 2009 and on or before April 30, 2010. However, in cases where a binding sales contract is signed by April 30, 2010, the home purchase qualifies provided it is completed by June 30, 2010.
  • Single taxpayers with incomes up to $125,000 and married couples with incomes up to $225,000 qualify for the full tax credit.
  • Members of the Armed Forces, military intelligence and Foreign Service who are on extended overseas duty or who have been on active duty for more than 90 days in 2008 and 2009 have another year to use the tax credit (through June, 30, 2011).

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Thinking of Purchasing a Home?

Maybe you don't know where to start. Maybe you looked at homes in the past but for some reason put your search on hold. Maybe you don't think you will qualify for a mortgage. Maybe your "bad" credit isn't as bad as you think, or can be improved with a little direction. Maybe you don't have all the answers, or even know any of the questions.

TRIP's HomeOwnership Center can help answer some of your questions, and help you to generate more of your own.

Some good starting questions to ask yourself are:

What am I waiting for? A bill to be paid? Prices of houses to come down? Credit problems? Do I have enough money saved? How does the home buying process work?

How soon are you looking to purchase? 3 months? 1 year? 2 years?

What geographic area would you like to purchase a home? City of Troy, outside of Troy, outside of Rensselaer County?

Am I eligible for grant assistance? What does that mean?

TRIP offers counseling and education to potential home buyers regardless of income and geographic location.

What's your first step?
Attending a Homebuyer Orientation! At our orientation, we go over our programs, so you will better understand the qualifications and requirements for our down payment assistance programs
as well as what's involved in the home buying process.

Check our Calendar of Events for the next scheduled Orientation!

Then contact the HomeOwnership Center at 690-0020 x221 or e-mail register@triponline.org with questions or to register.

And then what?
After attending a Homebuyer Orientation, you will need to schedule a one-on-one appointment with one of our counselors. At this appointment, you will be able to get an assessment of your mortgage readiness. This can include but is not limited to:

  • approximately how much of a mortgage will a bank approve you for based on income;
  • how much would that monthly mortgage payment be and how that fits with your monthly budget;
  • would a bank approve you for a mortgage based on your credit history and current debts;
  • are you income eligible for any down payment assistance;
Contact the HomeOwnership Center at 690-0020 or e-mail register@triponline.org with questions or to sign up for the next Homebuyer Orientation.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Keeping Cold Air Out = More $ in Pocket

Winter is coming! Make sure that your house is ready for the freezing temperatures. By being prepared, you can save money on your heating bills and save headaches from burst pipes and damaged roofs, gutters, and walls. One of the easiest ways to reduce your heating bill is by preventing the warm air inside from leaking outside. Start by making sure that all of your doors and windows are in good condition, then caulk and weatherstrip around them. Ensure that your walls and ceilings are sufficiently insulated. Rugs on floors and heavy drapes at the windows can also protect against cold drafts.

Keep your heating system operating efficiently for both safety reasons and energy savings. Get your furnace serviced regularly.

A real winter nightmare – and a costly one – is frozen pipes that then break and flood your house with water, causing extensive damage to your house and belongings. Prevent pipes from freezing by identifying those located in unheated areas, then insulate them and wrap them in heat tape. Also, periodically run a small trickle of water from your hot and cold faucets and open the doors of cabinets with water pipes running through them. This is particularly important if the house will be unheated for extended periods of time, such as when you and/or your tenants are out of town.

An often ignored winter problem is the potential for ice dams to form, which can damage the roof, gutters, walls, interior ceiling and even items inside the home. Ice dams occur during melting/freezing cycles, when melted water and ice can work up under the shingles, eventually seeping into the building. To prevent ice damming, make sure your gutters and downspouts are clear of leaves and sticks in the fall, then clear snow and icicles from them all winter long. Make sure to keep the buildup of snow on your roof to a minimum, using a long-handled roof rake if needed to pull the snow off the roof. All winter long, keep gutters and down spouts clear of snow and icicles.

For additional simple tips to save energy, check out suggestion on Rensselaer County’s website at http://www.rensco.com/save_energy_main.asp

Assistance in Paying Heating Bills
As of yesterday, November 2nd, applications for assistance in paying home heating bills through HEAP (the Home Energy Assistance Program) are being accepted. The income limits for eligible households have been raised since last year; a family of four with an annual income of up to $46,837 is now eligible. Households that are eligible can receive one regular payment and may be eligible for a second emergency payment in certain cases. HEAP is available both to renters and to homeowners. More information about the benefits and terms can be found at http://www.myBenefits.ny.gov or at http://www.rensco.com/social_heap.asp or by calling (518) 270-3935.

Safety Tip: When you changed your clock this weekend, did you remember to change the batteries in your smoke alarm and carbon monoxide monitor?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Landlord Training Program

TRIP is co-sponsoring a Troy Landlord Training Program on Thursday, November 12, 2009 from 5:30 – 9:30 PM. It will be held at the Italian Community Center at 1450 5th Avenue. Anyone with rental properties in Troy – or those considering purchasing a building with rental units is invited to attend this informative, free, interactive session designed to assist landlords in managing their property. Topics include landlord/tenant responsibilities, tenant screening, the eviction process, Section 8, code enforcement and more.

Seating is limited so please reserve by contacting TRIP’s HomeOwnership Center at register@triponline.org or 690-0020. A light meal will be provided. The Troy Landlord Training Program is co-sponsored by Troy Rehabilitation and Improvement Program (TRIP), Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the City of Troy.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Commitment to Education

What is the impact of providing Homebuyer Education? Or Landlord Training? Or Money Management Classes? How many of us emerged from high school with a sound financial education? Did we know the difference between an ARM and a fixed rate mortgage? Did we learn practical money management skills in the classroom? Was financial literacy a concern for our well-rounded education? Did we get tested on our financial IQ?

Everyday, TRIP is making a difference in our neighborhoods by providing the information that helps people make informed decisions, empowers homeowners, strengthens neighborhoods and brings a sense of pride in community.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Homeowners Take Advantage!

You may be eligible for a 20% tax credit up to a $50,000 value for rehabilitation work on your historic home. A new state law to enhance the 2007 Historic Preservation Tax Credit Program increases financial incentives for rehabilitation of "qualified historic homes." Information about the requirements needed for a home to qualify is included below.

Tax credits are available for rehab in excess of $5000 of which at least 5% is spent on exterior work; the work is completed after January 1, 2010; and preliminary approval is received by the New York State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). Work that generally does not qualify for the tax credit includes landscaping, fencing, and additions.

A buyer of a qualified historic home may also be able to claim the tax credit if he or she was the first purchaser after a substantial rehabilitation by the seller, which was certified as meeting the established requirements. Furthermore, the sale must occur within five years of the certification of the completed work and the seller could not have previously taken the tax credit.

If the allowable credit exceeds the homeowner's tax liability for the year and the family's adjusted gross income is under $60,000, the excess will be treated as an overpayment of tax to be credited or refunded.

According to the SHPO, a "Qualified Historic Home" must be:
  • Owner-occupied;
  • Listed on the State or National Register or as a contributing building in a historic district; and
  • Located in a federal census tract that is at 100% or less of the State
  • Family Median Income or has similar designations. Call SHPO to determine whether your neighborhood qualifies.
For a map of historic districts in the City of Troy, click here. For more information on the Historic Tax Credit or an application, link to the historic tax credit page on the state's website at http://www.nysparks.com/shpo or contact the Residential Tax Credit Program at (518) 237-8643.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Annual Homecoming Dinner

Throughout its history, TRIP has been privileged to be touched by "movers and shakers" who are dedicated to Troy. Four of these treasures will be honored at the TRIP and Rensselaer County Housing Resources (RCHR) Annual Homecoming Dinner on Monday, October 26, 2009.

TRIP & RCHR will present its 2009 Community Citizenship Award to John Scarchilli, President and CEO of Pioneer Bank, for his many decades of commitment to Troy and Rensselaer County. In conjunction with John's leadership, Pioneer has helped TRIP and RCHR -- and the communities they serve -- in numerous ways for many years. Pioneer is a long-term supporter of the homeownership programs, helping first-time homebuyers achieve -- and maintain - their American dream. Additionally, Pioneer provided capital investments so that TRIP could renovate derelict abandoned buildings and bring them back to life, and then supplied volunteers to help improve the surrounding neighborhoods with various improvement projects.

Also being recognized at the TRIP and RCHR Annual Dinner are three people who each contributed to Troy's revitalization when they served as Executive Directors of TRIP during its 40 year history. Vinny Lepera, Duncan Barrett, and Barbara Jones Higbee are this year's recipients of TRIP's Troy Treasure Award, which recognizes a person or group who demonstrates a passion for Troy in very positive and real ways. Come hear their stories.

TRIP and RCHR are pleased to honor and show their appreciation for four of our area's valuable assets at the Annual Homecoming Dinner. Please join us on Monday, October 26 at the Franklin Terrace Ballroom, 126 Campbell Avenue, Troy, NY. Tickets are still available. For ticket information, please contact gail@triponline.org or 272-8289 x212.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Meet the Candidates Night

Troy residents are asked to make some important decisions on November 3, Election Day. Who do you want to lead the City as it faces difficult issues and tough choices over the next two years? Who will make the best judges in Rensselaer County Court and Family Court? What do you really know about the candidates? How can you find out their positions on issues that are important to you? How will you decide who to cast your votes for in two weeks?

To help you decide, don’t miss a “Meet the Candidates Night” on Wednesday, October 21st, from 7 – 9 PM at the CYO, 237 4th Street in Troy. You will hear from – and can pose questions to – eighteen candidates who are running for the City Council’s six district council seats and three council-at-large seats. You will meet and learn about the four candidates vying to be the next judge in Rensselaer County Court Judge or Family Court. You will also have a chance to meet some of the many candidates running to represent Troy as County Legislators from District 1.

“Meet the Candidates Night” is free and open to the public. It is sponsored by TNAC (Troy Neighborhoods Action Council) and TRIP (Troy Rehabilitation and Improvement Program) to help people who care about Troy make informed choices as they pull the levers on November 3rd for their best hopes for Troy’s leaders.

We’re pleased that the League of Women Voters is again partnering with us to moderate the presentations by the candidates. We look forward to an informative and interesting evening!

TNAC is a non-partisan coalition led by neighborhood leaders and comprised of Troy’s neighborhood associations, neighborhood watches, and concerned citizens. By meeting regularly and holding public events like the “Meet the Candidates Night,” we aim to encourage new neighborhood groups and support existing ones, in part by energizing people to get involved, whether it’s organizing block parties or working with the police to reduce crime. TNAC’s mission statement, goals and objectives can be used as blueprints for someone starting a group or to help current groups stay focused as they work to revitalize their communities.

More than the influence even of elected officials, Troy’s future will be determined by the passion, the vision and, yes, the hard work of many caring and committed lovers-of-Troy. For more information about TNAC, For more information, contact TRIP at 272-8289 x214 or email hilary@triponline.org.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Welcome to the TRIP blog!

TRIP’s mission is to enable individuals and families to live in desirable, sustainable neighborhoods. Our vision is to foster the development of Troy as a dynamic city of thriving neighborhoods providing a variety of housing choices and accommodating a diverse population.

TRIP accomplishes this by providing opportunities for people to access decent, safe, affordable housing – whether through helping them achieve home ownership or by renting one of our apartments — and by working in partnership with neighborhood residents and others to create vibrant communities.