The meeting held last Saturday at Interfaith Medical Center, about reporting on the deed theft hearing and celebrating the bill that was passed, opened with Brownstoners of Bedford-Stuyvesant President emeritus Lynette Lewis Rogers giving the underlying theme of the meeting and the raison d’être of the Brownstoners themselves. “That we have legacy and that their homes remain in their family and we have a legacy to pass on.” And State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, co-author of the bill with Assemblymember Helene Weinstein, reiterated that principle as the impetus driving real estate legislation that had been passed in the Spring.
The theft of property in Bedford-Stuyvesant and surrounding communities is about more than taking property. It is the destruction of the legacies built over the years by people working hard doing the right thing, and trying to pass on what they have to succeeding generations.
It is a continuation of African-Americans being seen as prey for the wealth-building of others. It is illegal, cowardly and evil.
The meeting was also an opportunity for the senator to speak of the importance of recognizing that the fighters here did not spring up from the dust. And young people have to know that they are standing on the shoulders of those who have passed and those who remain and whose shoulders still provide support so that current generations can reach up and pull themselves over the walls that still remain.
Montgomery said when the power shifted in the Senate, the defenders of legacy were ready to leap over the walls and make things happen.
The importance of activism at the grassroots level was celebrated by the senator, and it was the information about the everyday events of deed theft, third-party transfers overtaxing and “the city essentially confiscating properties” that the legislators had been hearing from constituents, and “as we got those stories, essentially horror stories, press came forward with a series of articles” and the legislators held the hearing in order to give an official response.
Held at Brooklyn Borough Hall, and headed up by Borough President Eric Adams, co-chaired by Montgomery and Assembly member Tremaine Wright, chair of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus, the hearing was attended by Senator Brian Kavanaugh, chair of Housing; Senator Robert Jackson, chair of Cities; Senator Kevin Parker, chair of Energy and Telecommunications; Assembly member Al Taylor, chair of Regulated Mortgage and Lenders; and Assembly member Nick Perry, former chair of the Black, Puerto Rican and Asian Caucus.
The objectives of the Deed Theft Bill:
- Prohibit abusive and deceptive behaviors such as pretending to be law enforcement or government representatives, taking temporary ownership of a deed or engaging in harassment of the homeowner or the homeowner’s family.
- Eliminate the requirement that a homeowner post a bond in order to file a lawsuit to stop a deed transfer.
- Prohibit loan modification consultants from requiring up-front fees for services.
- Extend the amount of time a homeowner has to rescind transactions with distressed property consultants from 5 days to 14 days.
- Provide a clear legal path to restore the title of a property when there has been a criminal conviction based on fraudulent actions concerning a property transfer.
Tremaine Wright, the first woman to head her Caucus, said there are other bills pending that are needed to further strengthen homeowner protections and people need to continue coming out and letting the legislators know “that the Brownstoners and Bedford-Stuyvesant have not fallen asleep, and that we are still on watch and we want them to push forward with these bills.”
Senator Brian Kavanaugh was recognized for the work he did on the rent laws and he said it was the result of tenants organizing and “with their help, we fought that fight and virtually eliminated every loophole that landlords were using to force tenants out” by passing “the strongest tenant protection laws since World War II.” These bills had been passed year after year in the Assembly but languished at the Senate door held shut by the Republican majority.
Former Assemblyman Al Vann introduced his former mentee, Attorney General Letitia James, who began by noting she was at Interfaith a few days earlier because insurance companies had dropped Interfaith, Brookdale and Downstate Hospitals from coverage. She said it was the leadership of the Ways and Means Chair Helene Weinstein, Assembly member Tremaine Wright and others working together and contacting the governor that caused the insurance companies to “reverse their decision overnight.”
Highlighting the importance of voting, the attorney general said that with the changes in the Senate and with Montgomery now being the most senior senator, “The Democrats have taken control, and they have passed more progressive pieces of legislation than ever before. From rent control to deed theft, the electoral process and the list goes on and on and on. So, if anyone tells you that politics don’t matter, tell them that they’re a damn liar.”
“We recognize that homeownership and the middle class are inextricably tied to one another,” said Tish. “And we recognize that those in Community Board 2 and 3 (and 8) are equity-rich and cash-poor, and that makes them a target for the unscrupulous and the greedy.”
The attorney general informed the group that on a visit to Maspeth, Queens, she learned in a local publication of a regulation in the Office of the Secretary of State that any community that is under seizure can pass a “non-solicitation” regulation in respect to brokers and real estate companies to monitor their behavior. She is contacting the Secretary of State to determine if Community Board 2, 3 and 8 can be included in this program.
All the speakers acknowledged that there are bills still pending that will only become law when they have Governor Cuomo’s signature. And the word from all was “keep the pressure on.”