State legislators attempting to deal with New Jersey’s foreclosure crisis heard a tale of two administrations: one a best of, one a worst of, but both governed by Chris Christie.
First, Community Affairs Commissioner Richard Constable wowed the joint session of two Assembly committees by admitting past failures but promoting current success in distributing $300 million in federal foreclosure aid.
Constable’s presentation about his overhaul of the embattled NJ HomeKeeper loan program left Assemblyman Jerry Green (D-Union) starry eyed.
“If I go back into the private sector, I’m going to hire you,” he told Constable, and led a chorus of Democrats and Republicans in a “let’s work together” theme.
But the commissioner did not stay around for testimony from struggling homeowners, foreclosure victims, housing counselors, and activists, whose faint praise for Constable’s department faded against criticism of “incoherent” policies.
The fault-finding came from both left and right, as witnesses said Constable’s efforts, while laudable, have not resolved underlying problems or shaken the “indifference” of the rest of the administration toward the impact of foreclosures on the economy.
By the end of the day, as his housing and local government committee approved a package of three foreclosure-related bills on strict party-line votes, Green’s remarks took on more subdued shadings.
“There’s a lot of miscommunication,” he sighed. “We still have a lot of work to do to get on the same page.”
Now for the Bad News
Only a handful of audience members remained for the worst news of the day, a withering assessment from the state Administrative Office of the Courts about pending foreclosure actions.
“We could easily have 65,000 to 100,000 [foreclosure] cases next year,” said Dan Phillips, the AOC’s legislative liaison.
The lower number would roughly equal the figure for 2010, which court officials believe was the most ever in New Jersey. The latter would meet the highest estimate of all cases held up during legal moratoria in 2011, some of which already have been filed, dropped, or resolved.
Some private attorneys in foreclosure practice have even higher estimates, according to Kevin Wolfe, the AOC’s assistant director for the civil division. One just told him to expect 150,000 or more, he said.
Even before hearing those estimates, as Green’s group sat earlier with the financial institutions committee, members and witnesses agreed that New Jersey’s numbers look bad. It continues to rank near the top of the states in unemployment and foreclosure rates.
That malign combination qualified New Jersey for the $300 million in “hardest hit” aid from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Troubled Asset Relief Program, colloquially known as the “bailout.”
Treasury gave the states their choices in how to use the money. New Jersey developed HomeKeeper through the state Mortgage and Housing Finance Agency, to provide loans of up to $48,000 to help unemployed or under-employed people stay in their homes.
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