Union County Human Relations Commission
For immediate information:
Karen E. Positan — 908-889-9028
Foreclosure Forum Attendees Given Guidance, Free Resources, Hope
County and State Officials Provide Solid Information To Distressed Homeowners
Westfield, NJ – Free professional advocates are available to assist worried and distressed homeowners facing foreclosure, according to a public forum on foreclosure cosponsored by the Union County Human Relations Commission and Union County Foreclosure Task Force, in cooperation with the New Jersey Public Defender’s Office of Dispute Settlement and Union County Superior Court.
One of the most important lessons stressed during the presentation on Monday evening, Oct. 18 at St. Helen’s Roman Catholic Church here in Union County was that it is never too early to seek help — and never too late. While the presenters noted the best results are achieved when you seek help early, especially before you miss your first mortgage payment, free resources are available on the state and county level throughout the process.
The educational forum, “Foreclosure: Moving From Fear To Positive Action,” was designed to provide guidance to property owners fearing or facing foreclosure issues, and to help tenants in properties with foreclosure issues.
NEW JERSEY’S MORTGAGE FORECLOSURE INITIATIVE
“People in foreclosure wake up worried every day,” said Caroline Petrilla, Esq., Assistant Director of the New Jersey Public Defender’s Office of Dispute Settlement. “They do not know how to save their homes or how to ask for help. We want these homeowners to know that they are not alone, and that there are free resources that are available to them if they just reach out for them.”
“New Jersey’s free Foreclosure Mediation Program provides distressed homeowners with experienced advocates and neutral mediators to ensure that all possible ways of keeping their houses are explored with their lending institutions,” said Ms. Petrilla, an attorney.
Mediation is a process in which a neutral third party facilitates a discussion between the homeowner and lender’s representative. One of the best free resources is a housing counselor, available at no cost to homeowners, who can serve as an advocate throughout the entire foreclosure process and assist them in preparing for and participating in the mediation process.
The panel members agreed that the single most important action a distressed homeowner can take is to enlist the free support of a housing counselor, especially during mediation.
Homeowners may also qualify for free legal assistance from program attorneys within the mediation process.
“Through our Office of Dispute Settlement mediation efforts, we have been able to assist about 50 percent of the homeowners in foreclosure reach settlement,” said Petrilla. “Of that number, about 87% of those homeowners were able to stay in their homes.”
To obtain information, call the New Jersey Mediation Hotline at 1-888-989-5277.
THE VITAL ROLE OF THE HOUSING COUNSELORS
The four housing counseling agencies that are available to help Union County residents at no charge are Brand New Day (908)282-0781 and the Urban League of Union County (908)351-7200, both located in Elizabeth, Faith, Bricks & Mortar Inc. (908)756-5774 located in Plainfield, and NJ Citizen Action in Newark 1-800-656-9637.
Panelist Krishna Garlic, Executive Director of Brand New Day, noted that the housing counselor takes over the frustrating task of trying to contact the lendor on behalf of the homeowner, fills out lengthy forms with the homeowner, assists with budgeting and finances, and becomes an advocate during the entire mediation and foreclosure process. They have access to every program a homeowner can partake in to remedy their particular situation and come up with a solution. These free services are available to individuals who are employed, underemployed, and unemployed.
“Timing is everything, and the earlier you sign up, the better off you will be,” she said.
THE NEW JERSEY HOUSING AND MORTGAGE FINANCE AGENCY
Stephone Mickler, from the New Jersey Housing & Mortgage Finance Company, (NJHMF) described the Mortgage Assistance Program (MAP), which provides up to $20,000 to a homeowner to cover any existing arrears or municipal debt. This funding is available through their partnership with the housing counselor agencies.
Information about New Jersey agencies can be found at www.nj.hmfa.com, or by calling the NJHMF office at 1-800-446-7467.
BEWARE FORECLOSURE SCAMS
Panelists emphasized that distressed homeowners should not pay one penny to anyone offering foreclosure rescue assistance, as services are available without fee, and warned about the many scams asking for payments of thousands of dollars. In fact, the Attorney General’s Office urges any member of the public who has been a victim of mortgage-related fraud to report it by calling the Division of Consumer Affairs’ toll-free hotline at 1-800-242-5846, or to file a complaint on the Division’s website at www.njconsumeraffairs.gov.
THE FORECLOSURE PROCESS FROM THE COURT’S PERSPECTIVE
Sandra Thaler-Gerber, Esq., Civil Division Manager of the Union County Superior Court, and Kevin Wolfe, Chief, Administrative Office of the Courts, Civil Practice Division, who oversees the Office of Foreclosure and New Jersey’s Foreclosure Mediation Program, addressed the court’s perspective. Thaler-Gerber noted that because the judge, Sheriff’s Office, housing counselor and case management staff all work closely together during the mediation process, they are able to ensure that the homeowner has every opportunity to work with the lender to avoid foreclosure. They will do what they can to make things work, and can offer assistance with staying or postponing a Sheriff’s Sale. She further emphasized that the judiciary is fully committed to the Foreclosure Mediation Program to assist homeowners at risk of losing their homes.
Wolfe said that it is important for the homeowner to know that at any time during the foreclosure process, there is always time to go to a housing counselor to see if they can work something out with the lender.
Please use the Foreclosure Prevention Resources at www.njcourtsonline.com to access forms for the mediation program and gain a better understanding of the program.
THE UNION COUNTY FORECLOSURE TASK FORCE
The Union County Foreclosure Task Force was created by the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders in December 2008 as a forum for sharing ideas and information and to coordinate action among various local entities working on foreclosure prevention and intervention. Representatives from municipal, county and state government, community and advocacy groups, legal agencies, financial institutions, faith-based organizations, and housing counseling agencies have assembled to address foreclosure issues.
Alfred J. Faella, Director of the Union County Department of Parks & Community Renewal, is co-chair of the Union County Foreclosure Task Force along with Frank L. Guzzo, Director of Union County’s Department of Human Services.
“I can’t stress enough to work with one of the four counseling agencies we mentioned. They are HUD-certified counselors and they are free,” Faella said. “We can’t help everybody, but the success rate is higher and it is much better when a homeowner works with them,” he added.
One of Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi’s functions is to record property transactions and pending foreclosures. She noted that foreclosures have held steady at about 1,100 for the past 25 years, but in 2006, Union County began to see a creeping increase. “The good news is that there has been a decrease this year of about 10% in Union County,” she said. “The Union County Foreclosure Task Force is working to develop and implement programs and identify funding that can prevent unnecessary foreclosures, and help residents faced with foreclosures to receive the best information they can to forestall foreclosures from happening.”
The Union County Foreclosure Resource Directory (English and Spanish) as well as the Tenants in Foreclosed Properties information and Toolkit for Tenants Living in Foreclosed Properties are available on the County of Union’s foreclosure assistance website: www.ucnj.org/foreclosure .
James F. Keefe, co-chair of the Union County Human Relations Commission, urged attendees “Whether you are about to get behind in your payments, or you are two years behind, don’t give up hope. There are free resources out there who will help you. Just take that first step and ask.”
For more information, contact the Union County Human Relations Commission at (908)889-9028.