For the past three months, Congressmember Gregory Meeks’ congressional office on Jamaica Avenue has closed at noon every Wednesday.
However, the closure has not meant an early end to the workday, but instead an opportunity where constituents in danger of losing their homes to foreclosure can receive free advice and counseling from professionals.
Meeks has collaborated with the Consortium for Workers Education (CWE) and financial advisers at Money Match Corporation because the southeast Queens area that Meeks represents has been called the epicenter of the foreclosure crisis with thousands of foreclosure filings devastating the region’s residents.
Since the free program began, Money Match Corporation has met with 153 constituents, and they have already saved 23 people from going into foreclosure immediately, according to Money Match Corporation President David Aviles.
“Besides saving their homes we are putting them into budget and credit classes so they understand finance a little bit more and are more aware of what is going on,” Aviles said.
Springfield Gardens resident Lynnette Velasco, 58, was one of a half dozen residents in southeast Queens who shared their foreclosure nightmares at a press conference on Monday, February 9 at Meeks’ office.
“One of the things about southeast Queens is that it a bastion of African-American homeownership,” Velasco, 58, who was a victim of a national scam that the FBI ultimately stopped. “Should we lose that, I think it would be significant politically, significant socially and it would be devastating culturally.”
Meanwhile, Meeks delivered a strong message to the banks – many of whom are receiving some of the $50 to $80 billion in Trouble Asset Relief Program (TARP) funding from the federal government.
“To those banks who are working cooperatively with us, I want to say thank you,” Meeks said. “To those banks working cooperatively with us, I’m saying we’re coming after you.”
Meeks also said that if the institutions were looking for more help, they had better be ready to reciprocate.
“As you are looking to get more taxpayer money to help bail you out, we’re going to make sure you don’t have access to that money if you don’t also help bail these people out,” Meeks said.
Although Meeks said that single mothers and senior citizens are predominantly the ones who have come into his office to take advantage of the services, it is open to everyone even if they live outside of his congressional district. Meeks and CWE officials also urged those who think they may be a victim of a subprime mortgage not to wait before seeking out help.
“We’ll continue this program as long as we can, as long as it’s necessary to make sure that the hardworking people of the district keep their homes,” said Joseph McDermott, President of CWE.