By David Levinsky
Gov. Phil Murphy took aim at New Jersey's dubious distinction as first in the nation in foreclosures Monday when he signed into law a package of bills intended to help remove the state from the crisis' grip.
The Democratic governor signed nine bills during a ceremony in Atlantic City, where he said the crisis continues to harm families and drag on the state's economy and communities. He noted that one of every 1,000 homes in the state is in some phase of foreclosure proceedings.
In Burlington County the foreclosure rate is higher, with one of every 756 homes in foreclosure, according to the website Realtytrac.com. Rates are even higher in parts of some towns, such as Willingboro, Florence, Springfield, Woodland and Pemberton Township, according to the website.
"This is not an urban problem or rural problem, this is a New Jersey problem. Every county and nearly every community is dotted with homes that are reminders of the worst of the recession," Murphy said. "Today we begin the work of reclaiming these homes for our families and our future."
Most of the measures in the package were recommended by a special committee formed by New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Stuart Rabner to review the status of foreclosures throughout the state and put forward ways the process could be improved.
The committee released a report last year with 17 recommendations ranging from improving public outreach and understanding of the foreclosure process to changes the Legislature and courts might consider to further improve the process and assist homeowners.
The measures Murphy signed included a bill requiring homeowners to receive notice of a foreclosure action at least 180 days in advance, rather than 30 days. Another bill codifies the judiciary's foreclosure mediation program and dedicates fees from foreclosure filings and fines towards continuing it.
Murphy noted that 40 percent of the mediated cases have been resolved, mostly through loan modifications.
"The best way to tackle the crisis is to help families avoid the foreclosure process," he said. "Nothing will cure the foreclosure crisis overnight, but these efforts, alone with our efforts to work with families, will help us move forward."
One of the bills signed into law Monday would speed up the process for certain vacant properties in order to get them resold and occupied. Another would require banks and other creditors to file contact information with foreclosure complaints and legal actions in order to help ensure the properties are maintained.
Sen. Troy Singleton, D-7th of Delran, was the prime sponsor of several of the bills and he helped shepherd them to Murphy's desk as the chairman of the Senate's Community and Urban Affairs Committee. He credited a host of stakeholders that helped craft the bills and push for their approval, as well as lawmakers from both parties.
"Everyone of us realizes the grip of foreclosures and what they do to our communities and how they stagnate our ability to grow our economy," Singleton said at the ceremony. "Everyone came together to find a solution and move us forward. I'm proud of these nine bills and what they do."
Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th of Fords, did not attend but issued a statement indicating the new laws would strike a balance that is fair to both homeowners and banks.
"Sadly, for too long our state has led the nation in foreclosures, with 70,000 properties going through the process in 2017 alone," Coughlin said. "The nine bills signed into law today are the first of many steps we'll take to address foreclosure process concerns in the state. More efficiency and ensuring fairness in the current system protects the interests of our homeowners, our neighborhoods and communities. These creative solutions to this complex problem will better the lives of thousands of New Jersey residents."
(c)2019 Burlington County Times, Willingboro, N.J.