Homeowner gets help to save her hard-won independence

Keiko Omori, Upper West Side

Keiko Omori became a homeowner on the Upper West Side for the first time in 1993, after her family received reparations from the U.S. government as compensation for being held at a Japanese internment camp during World War II. Homeownership was a milestone for Keiko — helping her to escape temporary housing and to reclaim a sense of ownership that she and other Japanese-American families had lost during the war.

Even 24 years later, Keiko still has moments when she can’t believe she’s a homeowner. "This is mine! This is my apartment!” she wonders aloud.

Yet she nearly lost it, only to receive a loan from the New York State Mortgage Assistance Program in 2015.

Keiko’s problems began when she retired in 2012 after 40 years as a legal secretary. She was faced with unexpected medical expenses and found herself struggling with mortgage payments, and dwindling social security checks. When she tried to reach out to her bank for a mortgage modification, she was told she needed to provide more and more paperwork. But even when she did, she was denied. She said she felt as if she was “in the dark … being buried in paperwork,” and left with inconclusive answers.

Yet Keiko kept these feelings to herself and away from her friends and neighbors -- that is, until Elizabeth Sclafani and her husband moved in next door to Keiko in 2014. What started off as two people exchanging pleasantries eventually grew into a warm friendship. Eventually, Keiko confided her mortgage troubles with Elizabeth, who immediately got to work finding help for Keiko.

Thanks to a conversation with a New York State assembly member, Keiko and Elizabeth were eventually connected to the New York Mortgage Assistance Program run by the Center for NYC Neighborhoods. The program provides zero-interest mortgage loans up to $40,000 to homeowners across New York State who may be be at risk of foreclosure. Keiko was granted a loan at the upper limit. The Center also worked with Keiko’s bank to extend deadlines and to help get her mortgage modified. Ultimately, her monthly mortgage payments were reduced by 68%, allowing her to afford to stay in her home.

Neither Keiko nor Elizabeth thought that Keiko could get her mortgage payments reduced so dramatically. Elizabeth remembers telling Keiko she thought that the New York State Mortgage Assistance Program was an “amazing solution … that far exceeded her expectations.” Elizabeth also underscored the bigger picture: the building’s co-op would have suffered if Keiko had defaulted on her mortgage. It “wasn’t just Keiko who was going to lose,” Elizabeth said, “it was all of us.”

Today Keiko is grateful and surprised by the assistance she received from the New York State Mortgage Assistance Program. “I couldn’t believe little old me could get that,” she says.

Have you missed mortgage payments or are behind on property taxes?

The New York State Mortgage Assistance Program may be able to help. Contact us at 855-NYSMAP-3 to learn more.