State offers help to families on the brink of foreclosure

Michael Hill, Correspondent | August 15, 2018

“I fell at work over two years ago and everything has snowballed,” said a homeowner who asked not to identified.

A medical hardship led to an economic one for one of the breadwinners of this Passaic County home, and a phone call from her lender:

“They needed payment or that the papers would be filed for foreclosure,” said the homeowner.

This borrower took advantage of the lender’s advice. She called New Jersey Citizen Action – one of dozens of nonprofits in the state to help homeowners try to keep their houses. She signed papers last week in a program that will pay her lender and allow the family of five to stay put.

The homeowner said, “I feel like a huge weight is off my shoulders.”

Executive director of NJ Citizen Action Phyllis Salowe-Kaye said, “Since 2008, we have counseled over 36,000 folks.”

New Jersey has just unveiled a new million-dollar program to counsel 1,800 families facing foreclosure. It includes mediation with banks.

Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver said, “When people have had their homes foreclosed or they get notification, they are out-flanked at the bargaining table.”

The New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency says counseling works and studies prove it. The agency says a national study of 240,000 cases found families were three times more likely to keep their homes through counseling intervention.

“That’s what counseling does as part of the system of protecting home ownership,” said Charles Richman, executive director of the NJ Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency.

The agency is funding the new counseling program and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka says the foreclosure issue needs all the attention it can get after the Great Recession.

Mayor Baraka said, “African American communities lost 50% of their wealth during that time. We are still recovering from that.”

“It is almost, and I hate to compare it to anything, it is almost similar to the opioid crisis, which I’ve seen upfront at St. Michael’s Hospital, seeing these families go through sickness, heart attacks, strokes, depression,” said Reverend Ronald Slaughter of St. James AME Church.

Rev. Slaughter has met with Wells Fargo executives about predatory lending and foreclosure practices. He is anticipating the big bank conducting forensic audits in more than a hundred foreclosure cases. This month, Wells Fargo apologized for making mistakes in taking away hundreds of homes by foreclosure across the country.

Frederica Bey says Wells Fargo foreclosed on her East Orange home in the middle of a trial to modify payments.

Bey said, “You’re not going to take my house like you took my ancestors and sold them like a horse or a cow and then come up now and say you’re a new Wells Fargo. You a lie and the truth ain’t in you.”

In a statement, Wells Fargo said,We worked with Ms. Bey for nearly four years in an effort to find an option that would allow her to keep her home and postponed foreclosure sales on several occasions to review her situation.  Unfortunately, despite those efforts, we were unable to find an alternative and completed the foreclosure earlier this year.  A third party acquired the property at the foreclosure sale and, as a result, Wells Fargo is not involved in any current actions related to the house.” Such as the new owner repeatedly showing up.

Bey said, “They showed up a few times, until, like I said, I called the police.”

Wells Fargo says it will take part in the new counseling program while the state urges homeowners to act quickly when they get foreclosure notices as this Passaic family did.

The unidentified homeowner said, “I honestly thought my house was going to be gone. So I made that call right away.”

The state says only 800 homeowners in 22,000 foreclosure cases take advantage of mediation.