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Wayne Co. to help 4K facing foreclosure

Detroit — Wayne County treasury officials expect to broker payment plans with nearly 4,000 tax delinquents over the next week in hopes of keeping owners in their homes.

Several hundred homeowners facing foreclosure met with treasury staffers Wednesday at Cobo Center. Among them was Ralanda Jones, 42, of Detroit who has a second job cleaning offices in hopes of paying off the $2,243 she owes in 2010 taxes and fees.

“It’s the house I grew up in,” said Jones, who lives near Dexter and West Davidson. “It’s home.

“It can be very overwhelming. I just need some time.”

Nearly 42,000 county properties face foreclosure for 2010 unpaid taxes, including nearly 35,000 in Detroit. Officials say they expect to set up monthly payment plans to pay back taxes with a majority before they sell them at auction. Last year, the office made deals with nearly 23,000 property owners.

“We would like to help each and every owner avoid foreclosure, pay their taxes and stabilize our neighborhoods,” said Treasurer Raymond Wojtowicz in an email. “We have programs that can help. We need taxpayers to come down and work with us.”

The properties are sold in September and October, when most are sold at a $500 starting bid.

Three generations of Jones’ family are struggling with taxes on their Detroit homes. Her mother brokered a payment plan with the county last year. Jones hoped to set up a similar plan Wednesday and her daughter expects to work out a deal for $4,500 in taxes and fees.

Terrance Williams owes $4,600 on his late grandmother’s Detroit home. The 47-year-old cab driver’s income fluctuates and he’s had a difficult time getting the money together to pay the bill.

“I don’t want to be homeless,” said Williams, who lives near Seven Mile and Interstate 75. “It’s just economics. Folks don’t have jobs. Something has to give.”

Avoid foreclosure

The Wayne County Treasurer will hold show cause hearings today, Friday, Monday and Tuesday at Cobo Center’s Riverfront Ballroom. There are two sessions a day, starting at 9 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.

Article source: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20130131/METRO01/301310389/1409/metro/Wayne-Co-help-4K-facing-foreclosure

Foreclosure Homes for Sale in Florissant and the St. Louis-Area

It can get confusing when choosing between buying a foreclosed on home or a short sale home. 

According to an Opposing Views article, both property types are distressed, and there are additional steps you must take as opposed to buying a non-distressed property.

In Florissant, there are dozens of foreclosed on homes on the market. Those homes range in prices and size.

To view a list of foreclosure homes for sale in Florissant and the St. Louis-area, visit Homes.com.

More from the Opposing Views article: 

A short sale takes place for a home that likely is facing foreclosure. The homeowner gets prior permission from the lender to sell the home for less than what is owed on the mortgage. This agreement is for homeowners who can’t afford their mortgage payments, but want to avoid foreclosure. A foreclosure is a bank-owned property. The previous homeowners didn’t pay their mortgage, and after falling delinquent, they were forced to vacate the property. The home was then re-listed on the market by the lender.

Meanwhile, the HPF, the Homeownership Preservation Foundation, is an independent nonprofit that runs the national Homeowner’s HOPE Hotline at 888-995-HOPE.  

Each day, the HOPE Hotline receives over 4,000 calls from homeowners across the country who need guidance and information about their personal housing crisis

The HOPE Hotline has served more than six million consumers since 2007 and just last month received over 1,100 calls from residents of Missouri.

Article source: http://florissant.patch.com/articles/foreclosure-homes-for-sale-in-florissant-and-the-st-louis-area

Statewide Effort Helps More than 10000 Avoid Foreclosure;

Mortgage loan program helps displaced workers while they seek new jobs

WASHINGTON, D.C. – January 31, 2013 – (RealEstateRama) — A state-designed foreclosure prevention program made its 10,000th foreclosure prevention loan last month, providing workers who have lost jobs during the downturn a way to save their homes.

“We’re on target to help 21,000 homeowners by the end of 2014,” said A. Robert Kucab, executive director of the N.C. Housing Finance Agency that designed and manages the N.C. Foreclosure Prevention Fund. “This has been a huge effort—10,000 loans in 26 months. It was possible only because of the work of 40 HUD-approved counseling agencies all around the state.”

[Editor: To list agencies serving your area, go to www.ncforeclosureprevention.gov/map_contact_counselor.aspx .]

The N.C. Foreclosure Prevention Fund pays the mortgage for unemployed workers while they seek jobs or complete job training in a new field. The assistance is also available to homeowners who have suffered certain other hardships, while they look for work. It is funded by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Hardest Hit Fund®. to help with the economic recovery.

“So far, the Foreclosure Prevention Fund has kept $2.7 billion of property out of foreclosure statewide. It is helping stabilize property values and the local economy in 98 counties,” said the Housing Finance Agency’s Kucab.

There is no cost to homeowners for assistance, which is offered in two forms.

a zero-interest, deferred loan of up to $36,000, paying mortgage and related costs for up to 36 months while the unemployed one seeks or retrains for a job. If the owner continues to live in the home for at least 10 years, the loan is considered satisfied and no repayment is required.
a zero-interest loans to pay off a second mortgage. This can reduce the homeowner’s total monthly payment to an affordable level, and can help a homeowner who finds a new job, but at reduced income.

Homeowners do not need to be behind on their mortgage payments to apply. Eligible homeowners can apply for the N.C. Foreclosure Prevention Fund through 40 participating HUD-approved counseling agencies or can apply online at www.NCForeclosurePrevention.gov.
For more information, homeowners should call 1-888-623-8631, or go to www.NCForeclosurePrevention.gov.

###

The N.C. Housing Finance Agency is a self-supporting public agency. It has financed nearly 215,000 affordable homes and apartments statewide in the last 35 years. It offers the N.C. Foreclosure Prevention Fund™ with funding from the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Hardest Hit Fund®, which was authorized under the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. The Hardest Hit Fund®, is available in 18 states and the District of Columbia, which have experienced high unemployment or a steep decline in property values. North Carolina was selected because of the large percentage of the population living in counties with high unemployment rates in 2009.

Press Contact Only:
Margaret Matrone, NCHFA, 919-877-5606,
Connie Helmlinger, NCHFA, 919-877-5607

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Article source: http://northcarolina.realestaterama.com/2013/01/31/statewide-effort-helps-more-than-10000-avoid-foreclosure-ID0396.html

Anti-foreclosure effort offers more help

Enlarge Image

FILE PHOTO

About 8,800 Ohioans have been helped through the Save the Dream program, at a cost of $125 million, said Cindy Flaherty of the Ohio Housing
Finance
Agency.

By 

Jim Weiker

The Columbus Dispatch

Thursday January 31, 2013 1:49 AM

Ohio’s major foreclosure-prevention program is expanding in an effort to help more homeowners stay put.

Starting Friday, homeowners in trouble with their mortgages can receive more money for a longer time and apply it to more debts than before.

The changes are designed to broaden homeowners’ access to $570 million the state received in federal foreclosure-prevention funds in 2010.

“As our experience working with homeowners evolved and as their needs evolved, we need to keep modifying the program,” said Cindy Flaherty, director of homeownership with the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, which administers the funds through its Save the Dream program.

“Our goal is to keep people in their homes.”

About 8,800 Ohioans have been helped through the program, at a cost of $125 million, including about $20 million in administrative and counseling costs.

Those numbers are higher than in most of the 18 states that received federal “Hardest Hit Funds,” but Flaherty acknowledged that administrators hoped more people would have been helped by now.

Among the changes:

• The maximum amount a homeowner can receive will rise from $25,000 to $35,000. Homeowners can use the funds to pay down a mortgage balance and help make mortgage payments. Those who previously applied under the $25,000 limit are not eligible to reapply for more funds.

• Homeowners can receive full mortgage payments for up to 18 months or $22,000, up from 15 months and $20,000.

• Homeowners now can use the funds to pay off secondary liens on a property such as tax liens, second mortgages, home-equity lines and condominium fees.

• The maximum a qualifying household can earn rose to $112,375. About 86 percent of recipients have earned less than $50,000.

In addition, administrators have changed the way they approach loan modifications, which have benefited only about a dozen Ohio homeowners, far fewer than officials had hoped.

“It’s been a big frustration,” Flaherty said.

Lenders now will be asked to apply the funds to the loan balance but keep the life of the loan the same, reducing the monthly payment. In the past, lenders applied the funds to the balance and shortened the life of the loan without changing the monthly payment.

“We have hopes that this option will work better than a standard loan modification,” Flaherty said.

Save the Dream also will streamline the application process with an eight-part questionnaire that will appear on its website on Friday.

Homeowners can apply for foreclosure assistance at www.savethedream.ohio.gov or by calling 1-888-404-4674. To be eligible, homeowners must have lost their job or endured a financial hardship, earn less than $112,375 and have less than six months of mortgage payments in savings.

jweiker@dispatch.com

Article source: http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/business/2013/01/31/anti-foreclosure-effort-offers-more-help.html

Senate’s Warren Seeks Regulator Documents on Foreclosure Accord

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren and
Representative Elijah Cummings have asked banking regulators to
produce documents to show what was behind this month’s
settlements with 13 mortgage servicers for faulty foreclosures.

“It is critical that the OCC and the Federal Reserve
disclose additional information about the scope of the harms
found to establish confidence in the sufficiency and integrity
of the settlement,” the two Democratic lawmakers wrote in a
letter to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and
Comptroller of the Currency Thomas Curry dated today.

Warren and Cummings are seeking documents that outline the
scope of harm to borrowers in the foreclosure missteps of 2009
and 2010, and for demographic details about the borrowers. They
are also asking for information on the performance and pay of
independent consultants that the regulators ordered the
servicers to hire in 2011 to review the foreclosures.

Warren, of Massachusetts, was a special adviser to
President Barack Obama who set up the Consumer Financial
Protection Bureau. Cummings, of Maryland, had criticized the
settlement plan before it was announced, and said that it could
allow “banks to skirt what they owe and sweep past abuses under
the rug.”

The lawmakers are asking that the documents be delivered by
Feb. 22.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Jesse Hamilton in Washington at
jhamilton33@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Maura Reynolds at mreynolds34@bloomberg.net.

Article source: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-01-31/senate-s-warren-seeks-regulator-documents-on-foreclosure-accord.html

Washington, DC, region ranks among worst to buy a foreclosure

RealtyTrac released a report today that lists the Washington metro region as one of the worst places to buy a foreclosure. While that’s bad news for real estate investors looking to snap up good deals on properties, it is good news for the area’s housing market.

“Maybe we should have named that differently,” said Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac, with a laugh. “It’s worst from the perspective of a buyer coming into that market [to buy foreclosures]. But from a macro level and from the perspective of homeowners in the market, I think it’s a good thing because there are fewer foreclosures that you are competing against if you go to sell your home and foreclosures are not going to be weighing down on home values as much as they have in the past.”

Washington ranks in the top 25 of worst places to buy a foreclosure in the country, taking into account its foreclosure inventory (9,633 properties), inventory supply (10 months worth compared to 20 months nationwide), number of sales from January to October 2012 (9,412), percentage of all sales (13.2 percent), average foreclosure sale price ($258,556), average foreclosure discount percentage (37.1 percent), number of properties in 2012 with foreclosure filings (17,059) and annual percentage change in foreclosure activity (minus-11 percent).

The worst metro area in the country to buy a foreclosure is McAllen, Texas, followed by cities in the west, including Ogden, Utah; Las Vegas; Salt Lake City; Phoenix; Portland, Ore.; San Jose, Calif.; and Honolulu.  

The best places to buy foreclosures — where the best deals are to be had — are Palm Bay-Melbourne, Fla.; Rochester, N.Y.; Albany, N.Y.; New York-Northern N.J.-Long Island, N.Y.; and Lakeland, Fla.

Blomquist believes the Washington region is past the worst of the foreclosure problem that has plagued the housing market.

“There are still pockets of distress in the market that will have to be worked out over the next couple years, so it’s going to be a little bit of a bumpy road,” he said. “But mostly, I think the long-term trend is down in terms of foreclosures.”  

Even though the region has seen improvement, that doesn’t mean that some areas aren’t still struggling. Virginia appears to be ahead of Maryland because its faster foreclosure process — most foreclosures are settled out of court — allowed it to clear out its distressed properties much more quickly. Maryland is a judicial foreclosure state, which means foreclosures are conducted in the court system. The District’s foreclosure process has stalled as a result of a 2010 law.  

“I don’t know of any other metro area that straddles a non-judicial foreclosure state [Virginia] and judicial one [Maryland],” Blomquist said. “It is actually probably somewhat doing a disservice to just blanket the whole area as a worse place to buy [foreclosures] because if you look at the Maryland counties, many of them had an increase in foreclosure activity.”

Foreclosures were up 18 percent year-over-year in Montgomery County, 38 percent in Charles County and 58 percent in Calvert County. For those investors and buyers who missed out on the bottom of the market in Virginia, deals might still be had in Maryland.  

While Maryland has shown an increase in foreclosure sales recently, the trend across the country has been a decline in foreclosures and an increase in short sales.

Lenders “are much more inclined to agree to short sales as an alternative to foreclosure,” Blomquist said. “I think short sales are acting as a pressure release valve for some of the backlog.…We’re seeing a big increase in short sales that are happening even before the bank starts the foreclosure process. The banks don’t even bother filing the initial foreclosure notice. They just go ahead and preemptively agree to the short sale.”  

Short sales are still distressed sales, but the process is often quicker for a lender. States that have long foreclosure processes are seeing a huge increase in short sales. In Florida, which has the lengthiest foreclosure timetable in the nation, short sales were up 66 percent year-over-year in the third quarter.

Virginia saw an 11 percent year-over-year increase in the third quarter of short sales, while Maryland was up 25 percent and the District 29 percent.

Article source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/where-we-live/post/washington-dc-region-ranks-among-worst-to-buy-a-foreclosure/2013/01/30/8b4cd5c6-6b28-11e2-ada3-d86a4806d5ee_blog.html

Governor Malloy introduces bill to help homeowners

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — Struggling homeowners may soon be getting some help thanks to a bill introduced by Governor Dannel Malloy.

He says the legislation will help support those in danger of losing their homes, and hopefully even stop some foreclosures from happening.

For some, the summit of the American dream is home ownership, but how easy it is for that dream to come crashing down.

“I was served with foreclosure papers September 3, 2010,” said Debbie Sargunas, “I started mediation in September 2010, it was not a good experience for me.”

Thomaston’s Debbie Sargunas says working with a bank to find a solution was fruitless, roadblock after roadblock fostered frustration, a for sale sign on the front yard, looming.

“We’re going to change the rules,” said Governor Malloy.

Governor Malloy is submitting legislation requiring banks to have a representative who has full settlement authority at each mediation session. He’s hoping the enforcement will keep people in their homes, while at the same time avoiding blight.

“We want to make sure that the mediation process is to get to ‘yes,’ or for that matter, ‘no,’ quickly.  People deserve to know whether there is a basis to re-stack their mortgage or change their payments or have an adjustment of any type,” Governor Malloy said.

Last year, there were more than 19,000 petitions for foreclosure in the state. 

Article source: http://www.wtnh.com/dpp/news/politics/malloy-introduces-bill-to-help-homeowners

Five Years Late, Walkaways Get a $133 Break

Photographer: David Calvert/Bloomberg

The tracks in the Nevada snow? Underwater homeowners walking away from their homes.

Just as the housing market has started to turn up, Fanne Mae and Freddie Mac, the housing guarantee agencies are loosening the rules on homeowners walking away from their mortgages. It used to be that only way to get out of a mortgage was to stop paying and let it go into foreclosure. Now, as Bloomberg’s Kathleen Howley reported yesterday, a few homeowners will be able to walk away from underwater properties, with new policies going into effect in March.

Under the old rules, homeowners who kept up with payments were effectively punished for doing so: stuck in houses worth much less than they paid, they were nonetheless ineligible for foreclosure aid programs. The revised rules give those folks a break — although with a raft of restrictions. They apply only to homeowners faced with hardships such as illness or job changes, and then only if 55 percent of their income goes to debt payments. And in some cases they’ll be asked to pay part of what they owe.

In return, the agencies will not try to collect a “deficiency judgement,” pursuing home owners for the remaining debt. That small accommodation elicits indignation from commentators. As one puts it in Howley’s story, “It’s an extraordinarily generous approach for companies still in debt to the American public.”

Actually, it’s not. In an audit released last October the Federal Housing Finance Agency found that in 2011 Fannie and Freddie pursued deficiency judgements on 35,231 accounts (for comparison, they foreclosed on about 342,000 properties). The total recovery on those accounts was $4.7 million — just $133 for each deficiency, or 0.22 percent of what the agencies were owed. The money Fannie and Freddie get back in the typical case is so small that even a token payment homeowners make as part of a deal is likely to exceed it.

It’s well known that some “non-recourse” states, like Nevada and California, bar deficiency judgements in many cases. Less well understood is that even in cases where they are theoretically possible, the judicial procedure makes them impractical.

The deficiency judgement is a club held over the heads of debtors, a scare tactic far more useful in persuading debtors that they should keep making payments than in recovering money when they don’t. Nonetheless, the idea that homeowners might not be pursued for the money they continue to owe still creates outrage among those who believe it violates the moral principle that debts should be paid.

That outrage has been with us since the early days of the mortgage bust, with guardians of public morals decrying the dangers of letting deadbeats walk away from their loans. Sometimes that’s been accompanied by nostalgic claims that upstanding Americans of the past would never have simply walked away from their debts (not true: even the term “walkaway” dates at least as far back as 1962).

Leave aside that the reason deficiency judgements are so hard to collect in the first place is that states made it that way to avoid (obviously without success) the lending excess of past land booms. Worth asking here is what the deadweight loss to the economy has been of scorched earth efforts to squeeze the last bits of money from foreclosures. Homeowners already sinking into a debt trap end up letting utilities get turned off or cars break down, while options like moving to regions with better job prospects disappear.

So more debtors are pushed to seek direct or indirect support from the government, and ultimately the costs of that can easily a few extra months of house payments or the $133 recovered in a deficiency case. Having gotten $187 billion in taxpayer bailouts, it seems reasonable for Fannie and Freddie to take that cost into account, too.

Article source: http://go.bloomberg.com/market-now/2013/01/29/five-years-late-walkaways-get-a-133-break/

St. Paul: Foreclosure protester’s role in law firm scuffle disputed at trial

Fellow political activists described Anthony David Newby in a Ramsey County courtroom as calm, peaceful and level-headed.

But prosecutors with the city of St. Paul have accused him of hurting a female employee at the St. Paul law firm of Reiter Schiller during a protest. He is on trial this week in Ramsey County District Court on misdemeanor charges of fifth-degree assault and trespassing.

Newby, 38, of Minneapolis, helped organize an Occupy Homes MN action March 1. The organization works to stop foreclosures in Minnesota.

What was planned as an attempt to talk with attorneys at Reiter Schiller about the case of homeowner Monique White ended with the accidental injury of a firm employee, protesters said.

Paralegal Denise Reinke, 45, fell outside the front door of the firm at 25 N. Dale St. She said Newby banged on the door, then, as another protester yanked the door open, Newby grabbed her and “pulled her out of the doorway, then pushed her to the side, causing her to fall down the steps,” according to the criminal complaint. Reinke injured her knee.

Newby then yelled, “We’re in! We’re in!” the complaint alleged.

Newby’s fellow protesters described the incident in starkly different terms during testimony Wednesday, Jan. 30. Organizer Nicholas Espinosa testified that he had been involved in an estimated 50 to 100 actions with Newby. Some became tense.

“He’s always maintained a very cool, calm, collected stature in these moments,” Espinosa said

of Newby.

Newby was chosen to be one of the protesters to approach the front door of the firm for a discussion “because we feel like he’s the most calm and able to reason with people,” Espinosa testified.

There was no plan to use any force during the protest, Espinosa said.

Newby appeared to be having a cordial conversation at the door with Reinke when another man ran up and pulled the door open.

Espinosa said he believes the woman “came charging out into Anthony,” who put his hands up and stepped back.

Another protester, Elizabeth Fasching, said Reinke “came out with the momentum of the door. … Her hand was on the door because she was trying to hold it closed.”

Newby has a reputation for conducting himself professionally, Fasching said. She disputed the allegation that he grabbed Reinke.

The man who pulled the door open also was called to the stand by defense attorney Jordan Kushner. Jordon Ash said there was a person at the door blocking entrance, and the protesters wanted to get in. So he decided to act.

“If I had known that somebody was going to get hurt when I pulled the door open, I wouldn’t have done it,” Ash said.

He contrasted his own behavior with that of Newby’s.

“I’ve never heard him yell, ever,” Ash said. “He’s very different from me. … He thinks before he acts.”

The protesters targeted the law firm because it is legal counsel for the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp., or Freddie Mac. The agency was named in a lawsuit by White, who fought the foreclosure of her North Minneapolis home. White eventually was able to keep her home.

Newby is executive director of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, a Minneapolis nonprofit that works on foreclosure prevention, education and justice issues, according to its website.

Emily Gurnon can be reached at 651-228-5522. Follow her at twitter.com/emilygurnon.

Article source: http://www.twincities.com/localnews/ci_22484407/st-paul-protester-foreclosure-case-was-calm-during

Christie Blocks Foreclosed Homes as Affordable Housing

Gov. Chris Christie’s latest rejection of legislation to make vacant foreclosed homes available as affordable housing has left a broad coalition of proponents scratching their heads about what to try next to deal with New Jersey’s foreclosure crisis.

Related Links

Foreclosures Still Hit Home for Tens of Thousands in NJ

S2202: Bill directing the state Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency to Make Sure Federal aid is Used to Help Homeowners Keep Their Foreclosed properties

S2157: Residential Foreclosure Transformation Act

In twin vetoes, the governor suggested he would try to divert some federal foreclosure relief funding into Hurricane Sandy aid and would continue to fight to use municipal affordable- housing money to patch holes in the state budget.

Michael Cerra, legislative analyst for the New Jersey League of Municipalities, acknowledged that while the news was not good, he and other advocates are still trying to decipher what the governor’s words mean for future legislation and the state housing market.

“Everyone knows that foreclosure is a major issue, an issue for municipalities,” Cerra said. “We’re still suffering the effects of a real-estate downturn,” that has left New Jersey with the nation’s second-highest foreclosure rate after Florida.

The league was part of an unusually broad coalition of housing and business groups that supported one of the measures rejected by the governor on Monday, S2157, the Residential Foreclosure Transformation Act. Christie rejected a previous version of the bill, which aimed to help municipalities and community groups turn vacant foreclosed properties into affordable housing.

This time, Christie classified his new veto of RFTA as “conditional,” allowing for legislative changes.

But state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), a principal sponsor, called the veto “absolute” because the governor’s conditions “don’t make any sense.”

“Whoever wrote that veto message did not understand the legislation or the federal program,” Lesniak said.
Proponents said they were particularly confused because Christie mistakenly used similar language to conditionally veto another Lesniak bill, S2202. While also related to foreclosure, that bill addressed a federally funded program, not state housing policy.

That bill, S2202, directed the state Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency to show more flexibility in spending $300.5 million in federal aid, making sure it went for the intended purpose of helping struggling homeowners keep their properties.

As one of the states hardest hit by high unemployment and a high foreclosure rate, New Jersey received the funds from the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The program, launched in 2010, has succeeded in some of the target states and has been augmented to a total of $7.3 billion.

New Jersey’s program, called HomeKeeper, lagged behind those in other states, approving only 56 loans in 2011. In October 2012, Community Affairs Commissioner Richard Constable 3d told a legislative hearing that he had replaced program managers and relaxed loan criteria.

A U.S. Treasury Department report found that through the third quarter of 2012, New Jersey had spent $9.6 million of the money on assistance and just under $7 million on administration, outreach and counseling. Cumulatively, the eligible states spent $742 million on assistance and just under $200 million on the other categories.

S2202 would have required HomeKeeper to use $50 million of the money toward principal reductions of mortgages. In conditionally vetoing that bill, Christie said HMFA “will use the federal funds to create other foreclosure prevention programs” such as mortgage modifications.

But the governor also suggested spending the foreclosure money on people “in arrears to a temporary hardship other than un- or under-employment,” key criteria for the federal aid, “such as recovering from a natural disaster.”

“People were losing their homes before Hurricane Sandy,” said Staci Berger, policy and advocacy director of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey. “Foreclosure is an ongoing crisis in New Jersey, and we’ve yet to see the governor bring the kind of fire-and-brimstone approach to solving it that Chris Christie brings to other issues.”

The state Department of Community Affairs did not respond to questions about any new programs or state resources committed to fighting foreclosure.

“The veto message for the Residential Foreclosure Transformation Act also refers to the federal aid, but mixes that up with the HomeKeeper program,” Lesniak said. “It’s incomprehensible.”

In his RTFA veto, Christie suggested the HomeKeeper funds could also take the place of that initiative, Lesniak said.

But under federal rules, “that money can’t be used to move people into vacant homes,” the purpose of the RTFA program, he said.

The RTFA bill aimed to help New Jersey reduce its oversupply of vacant or abandoned properties, Lesniak said. Foreclosed homes, or those abandoned without a foreclosure ever completed, dot neighborhoods in communities around the state, he said.

“These aren’t homes with people in them, trying to avoid foreclosure,” Lesniak said. “These vacant properties are a drain on neighborhoods, a drain on property values, a drain on municipalities, a drain on the state housing market.”

Despite the harm to municipalities, Christie could have another reason for vetoing the measure, according to Cerra. The RTFA legislation would have allowed municipalities to voluntarily opt into the housing transformation program, he said.

Operating through the HMFA board, the towns would have been able to transfer their affordable housing accounts, accumulated from developer contributions, to make over the vacant units. But the governor is trying to take those funds, and approving the legislation might have made that seizure more difficult.

“That was sort of the undercard Monday before the state Supreme Court” hearing on the governor’s attempts to abolish the state Coalition on Affordable Housing, Cerra said.

A state appellate court ruled against Christie, but that has meant uncertainty for municipalities over the fate of their affordable- housing funds. State Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff wants to use the money to patch holes in the state budget.

“We take the position that those are local funds, collected locally and should be used for local purposes,” Cerra said.
Christie’s RTFA veto makes a cryptic reference to the bill relying on “unavailable and, in some cases unidentified, state funding sources.” Cerra said he is unsure what that means, except that “the thought occurred to me that it could be the affordable housing funds.”

With these separate battles bleeding over into each other, Lesniak said he does not know if Democratic legislators have another move to make to reduce the number of foreclosures.

“Almost everybody recognizes that foreclosure is a huge drag on our state’s economy,” with one big exception, Lesniak said.

“It’s virtually impossible to get anything done… when the governor refuses to acknowledge the problem,” he said.
“We supported this legislation, but I don’t think anyone was surprised by the veto,” Cerra said. “We could see the handwriting on the wall.”

Article source: http://www.njspotlight.com/stories/13/01/29/christie-stymies-effort-to-turn-foreclosed-houses-into-affordable-homes/