Union County Human Relations Commission
Our mission is to actively encourage, develop, promote and strengthen respect for
human rights and cultural diversity among the people of Union County.
Co-Chairs: James F. Keefe, Esq. and Barbara Boyer
Recording Secretary: Karen E. Positan 908-889-9028
Please send all correspondence to the UCHRC c/o The Office of the Union County Prosecutor; Andrew K. Ruotolo, Justice Center, 32 Rahway Avenue, Elizabeth, New Jersey 07202
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Commissioner Karen E. Positan
Union County Human Relations Commission
Foreclosure Forum Attendees Given Guidance, Free Resources, Hope County and State Officials Provide Solid Information To Distressed Homeowners
Rahway, 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 Civil Division.
One of the most important lessons stressed during the presentation on Thursday evening, October 11th at the Rahway Public Library 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 entire process. All panelists agreed that the first most important step is to register with a housing counselor.
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 Elizabeth Hulse 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 Hulse.
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 Hulse. “Of that number, about 87% of those homeowners were able to stay in their homes.”
To obtain information or to register, 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, Brand New Day’s Executive Director, 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. The housing counselor has 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.
Following the presentation, representatives from both Brand New Day and the Urban League set up tables to distribute literature and to speak with individual attendees and answer questions.
THE NEW JERSEY HOUSING AND MORTGAGE FINANCE AGENCY
Edward Collins from the New Jersey Housing & Mortgage Finance Company, (NJHMF) described various programs available to homeowners, including 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
Ronald Regan, with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, emphasized that distressed homeowners should not pay one penny to anyone offering foreclosure rescue assistance, as services are available without fee from certified professionals, and warned about the many scams asking for payments of thousands of dollars.
“Don’t sign away your home,” he said. “Don’t sell your home and lease it back without careful consideration. Don’t pay up-front fees to modify loans. Don’t sign a blank document, and don’t transfer your deed to anyone,” he added, ending with the most important “don’t”: “Don’t let yourself become the victim of foreclosure fraud.”
“There are a lot of nasty people out there who will pretend to be your new best friend offering help and a way out,” he warned. “Believe me, they aren’t. Trust your gut instincts. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t,” he added.
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. “You’re not only helping us to help you, you are doing your part to keep other families safe,” he said.
THE FORECLOSURE PROCESS FROM THE COURT’S PERSPECTIVE
Sandra Thaler-Gerber, Esq., Civil Division Manager of the Union County Superior Court, 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.
She 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.
”I can’t stress enough to work with one of the housing counseling agencies we mentioned. They are HUD-certified counselors and they are free,” Thaler-Gerber said. She emphasized that the housing counselors cannot help everyone stay in their homes, but the success rate is higher and the outcome is always much better when a homeowner works with them.
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
Pamphlets provided by the Union County Foreclosure Task Force were distributed by Karen Dinsmore, Assistant Director of the Union County Department of Human Services, who serves on the Task Force.
“This 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,” she said. 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.
County Manager Alfred Faella and Frank L. Guzzo, Director of Union County’s Department of Human Services, co-chair the Task Force.
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.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION IN ENGLISH AND SPANISH
Additional information is available in English and Spanish, including the Toolkit for Tenants Living in Foreclosed Properties, is available on the County of Union’s foreclosure assistance website: www.ucnj.org/foreclosure .
Union County Human Relations Commissioner Karen Positan, who facilitated the event, urged attendees “Whether you are worried about getting behind in your payments, about to get behind, or you are two years behind, don’t give up hope. There are free resources out there that can help you. You just have to take that first step and ask.”
“It is also important to be sure you are totally honest — both with the housing counselor and yourself -– throughout the process. There is no reason to be ashamed or embarrassed, and this is no time to put anything else forward but the true facts.”
The Foreclosure Public Forum presentation is currently being presented in Union County, as well as other locations in the state. It was initially co-created by the Union County Human Relations Commission and the New Jersey Public Defender’s Office of Dispute Settlement, and co-presented with Union County’s Foreclosure Task Force, created by the Union County Freeholders.
For more information, contact the Union County Human Relations Commission at (908) 889-9028.