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Energy Office is folded; payments re-arranged.

In the wake of the closing of the state Energy Office, property owners with outstanding energy loans are being treated differently, depending on their lenders. The directive that was sent out to the lenders with the close-out checks calls for them to apply the payment - calculated after taking a 6 percent present value discount - to the principal left on the loan. But not all of the banks are re-amortizing the loans so that interest payments are reduced.

Some banks, such as Citibank, are using the payment to write down the principal and doing the work to re-adjust payments so that borrowers can continue to benefit from a decreased interest payment.

But others are merely using the state payment to lop off the back end, refusing to re-adjust the payment schedules. The energy loans were designed to bring interest down to an affordable level by rebating money every six months to the borrower.

Because the banks are not adjusting the monthly premiums, and no more subsidy checks will be issued, "It's causing severe problems for the recipients," explained Dan Margulies, executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP).

"They are just saying the term will be shortened or the balloon - in some cases where they are not self-liquidating - will be less. The borrowers have to come up with the same payments as before, but in the past they were receiving a subsidy check," Margulies added.

The subsidy check that Marguiles described was the twice yearly payment sent by the New York State Energy Office to the banks to help reduce the borrower's actual interest payment to about 2.5 percent. In reality, rather than re-calculating the borrower's payments, the banks merely sent the check directly to the borrower.

So a property owner or co-op could budget to pay out a certain amount every month, while twice a year could count on receiving back a portion of those payments.

"Presumably, several years from now you will receive the benefit," added Marguiles. "That doesn't solve the [current] cash-flow problem."

The Energy Office, among its other duties, oversaw this Energy Loan Program that helped subsidize the interest payments on small loans - most were well under $500,000 - that were used to install energy-saving equipment in buildings. Among these items were new boilers, fuel computers and windows.

According to Brian Henderson, one of the State employees who is wrapping up the program and the transfer of the Energy Office to the Energy Authority, the state had about $7.8 million in subsidy commitments outstanding on 741 loans and is in the process of paying them out. "Compared to what it was, they wouldn't have gotten anything," he noted, referring to an earlier State posture that would have merely ended the program and left borrowers and lenders without recourse.

The funds for the loan supplement program came from a 1970s' Federal lawsuit settlement paid by major oil companies that was dedicated to providing energy subsidies of one sort or another.

Governor George Pataki, however, ordered the closing of the Energy Office by March 31st and the end of the loan program. Any remaining funds are expected to go to different kinds of projects and may supplement state-owned facilities.

Rather than having banks be stuck for the loan subsidies, a decision was made to send them money, after discounting the present value of the loan subsidy by 6 percent. In a letter to the lenders and in further loan agreements they were required to sign, the state required the use of the money to write down the principal amount.

In this manner, the payments would remain the same, but the loan could terminate sooner. "They didn't necessarily have to adjust the monthly payments," explained Patricia Brettone of Citibank's Economic Loan Development Center of the bank's responsibilities. "But we wanted some kind of cash-flow relief to the buildings to continue," she said. "We didn't want such a great program to end on a sour note, so we approached it from a customer service standpoint and decided to give the borrower - our customers - the net effect. It takes a little more energy [to re-calculate the loans]," she added.

One happy borrower is Rubin Pikus, president of the Queens-based Milbrook Properties that operates in the rent stabilized middle market. "Citibank will reduce the principal and is making my payments reflective of the reduced amount," he said. "I was lucky."

But other leaders are not making all of the adjustments necessary to reduce their borrower's current costs. "I can't see how they can take a principal payment and not read just the interest," observed Edward T. Braverman, senior partner of Braverman & Associates, an attorney who represents co-ops and building owners who have used these loans. Since his client has separate principal and interest payments, once the principal is reduced, his lender will also reduce the amount of the payments.

That will not necessarily be the case where there are fixed payments, explained Robert O'Hara, a vice president in the small business lending group of European American Bank, which has about 35 energy loans outstanding. In those cases with fixed payments, the payments would remain the same, but the interest payments made over the long run would be reduced, as would the principal.

He did not believe his customers were in cash-flow situations whereby they needed the lowered payment. "Should I be mistaken," O'Hara said concerned, "they would come to us and we would work it out."

One sponsor of a 184-unit Queens co-op, who asked not to be identified, is right now very nervous about the building's cash-flow situation with a different bank. While the payment reduces the loan, and in the long run is to the co-op's advantage, he worried,"we are not prepared for that shortage." The sponsor still owns 74 units and the energy loan subsidies amounted to just over $8,000 a year - money that would affect the bottom line of every unit's maintenance should it have to be made up.

Because owners are still negotiating with various lenders over this process, and some banks are still formulating their positions, REW is not now identifying banks that are taking a harder posture at this juncture.

One bank was proposing that a balloon payment would be reduced at the end of the loan. "This is causing immediate stress on the owner that was expecting the check," said Margulies.

Braverman is thankful his clients are able to benefit from the close of the loan program. "I do not see it as a loss," he said. "I see it as a very positive thing. It frees up your security and you have less principal and the payments should be less."

Once the principal is reduced, Braverman expects to get back about $30,000 in treasury bills one coop had supplied as security for the loan.

Gerald Pindus, president of TedPin Realty, installed three boilers using the program. "It was a nice program and it was great while it lasted," he said, calling the energy rebate check "the gravy" when it appeared twice a year. But wearing his other hat as the president of U.S. Energy Controls, Pindus is aware that the state program helped other owners purchase his equipment at the same time they were installing new boilers.

"To help out, U.S. Energy Controls is offering its own low-interest financing to those owners who would have otherwise used the Energy Loan program," he offered.
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Title Annotation:New York state Energy Office
Author:Weiss, Lois
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:May 17, 1995
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