New York State Attorney General Letitia James and her office kicked off a new initiative against deed theft Saturday called Protect Our Homes.
“Homeownership is the cornerstone of every community, but for decades, long-time homeowners in rapidly gentrifying areas have been the prime targets of schemes to steal their homes,” said James. “Deed theft is a heartless crime foisted on people who worked all their lives to achieve a vital piece of the American Dream, only to have that dream become a nightmare.”
Protect Our Homes began with a press conference at Restoration Plaza. After, elected officials and volunteers took to the streets of the surrounding area after the conference, telling homeowners how to protect their houses.
In attendance were a whole host of elected officials, including U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-Crown Heights, Flatbush, East Flatbush, Brownsville, Sheepshead Bay), Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel (D-Bed-Stuy, Ocean Hill-Brownsville, East Flatbush, Crown Heights) and New York State Assemblywoman Diana Richardson (D-Crown Heights, Prospect Lefferts Gardens), among others.
The event aimed to raise awareness of protection against deed theft, an issue that mainly affects Brooklyn neighborhoods of color, including Bed-Stuy and Prospect Lefferts Gardens. Deed theft occurs when a scammer creates a fake deed to a home or when a homeowner is in some way tricked into signing their property over to someone else.
The people most at risk for this kind of scam are people who are struggling to pay their mortgage or another form of debt because they are more likely to want the help that a deed thief may claim to be able to offer them.
“Deed theft is an unconscionable evil striking at the heart of Brooklyn, depriving hard-working people of the most important asset an American can hope to have — a home,” Clarke said. “No one should have to suffer through the particular evil that is deed theft.”
Clarke discussed her legislation, the Secure Deed Act, that will “create a federal right of action for victims of deed theft.”
The attorney general also discussed her office’s work on deed theft, such as their formation of a new task force focused on deed theft and other forms of housing fraud.
Another speaker, New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, echoed these sentiments.
“We have to stop the craven targeting of our elderly, those facing financial trouble and immigrants in communities of more color by unscrupulous individuals,” Williams said. “If we have to walk door to door with our partners to make sure homeowners who have sacrificed and worked tirelessly to purchase their homes are protected from the predators who would steal their security and investment in the future, we will.”
Those who believe they may be victims of deed theft are encouraged to reach out to the Homeowner Protection Program at 855-HOME-456 or the Attorney General’s office at 800-771-7755 for assistance.