EAST NORTHPORT, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – Mortgage relief is supposed to offer a breather for homeowners who are financially impacted by COVID-19 shutdowns.

They’re allowed to suspend mortgage payments during the crisis period, but then what?

As CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reports, many homeowners fear it’s going to be impossible to pay back anytime soon.

Paychecks have stopped coming to furloughed restaurants manager Elizabeth Starr, but her bills haven’t.

“Basic household needs like food have to get cut back on because you have these other things that need to be taken care of,” she told Gusoff.

CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

Starr is able to delay paying her biggest expense – the mortgage on her East Northport home. A pause is permitted in her mortgage payments, called forbearance, for three months.

But some lenders are telling homeowners those missed payments will all come due in one lump sum in the fourth month.

“I’m not just saying, oh, I can’t pay it. Everybody’s in the same boat,” said Starr.

It’s a sinking boat, according to some who predict an epidemic of foreclosures.

Attorney Gale Berg, who does pro-bono work for struggling homeowners, predicts foreclosures will be worse than after Superstorm Sandy.

“If they can’t pay it for lack of funds, they are not going to be able to pay it three months from now, having been sheltered in place,” she said.

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What if these deferred mortgage payments could be made up at the end of the mortgage life? New York State Sen. Todd Kaminsky says that option is being inconsistently offered.

“So let’s say you had a 30-year mortgage, you would then have a 30 year and three month mortgage,” he explained. “Otherwise, people will be caught in the cycle of debt they will never get out of, and it could actually cause a huge economic catastrophe with foreclosures.”

He introduced a bill to require state chartered banks to offer the option.

Steven Milner, president of the New York State Mortgage Bankers Association, says lenders are already supposed to offer that option and “have no right to demand payment immediately after the pause period.”

He agrees foreclosures benefit no one. Congresswoman Kathleen Rice wants it mandated at the federal level.

“I think it has to be mandated, if you’re going to focus on the people who need the help, the lifeline right now, it’s not the banks,” she said. “You can’t have one bank having one policy and another bank having another.”

The legislation intended to let homeowners focus on their health without losing their homes.

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