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Officials Get Tips To Help Owners

Courier-Post — Monday, April 13, 2009

By CAROL COMEGNO
Courier-Post Staff

Nearly 70 Burlington County government officials, state police, real estate agents and lenders attended the first seminar in the county on a new statewide court program to mediate home foreclosures.

Statewide, almost 2,600 county homeowners were victims of mortgage foreclosure in 2008 — more than double the number that lost their homes in 2005, state officials said.

Shavar Jefferies, counsel to the state attorney general, said more than 60 percent of the homeowners who have entered the mediation program have been able to reach agreements allowing them to remain in their homes.

"That's a great number, but we're working toward the goal of a 100 percent success rate," he told the group.

Freeholder Christopher Brown hosted the seminar in Burlington County, whose court mediation program did not start until recently. The seminar, which was held last week and sponsored by New Jersey Citizen Action and the state banking and insurance department, also addressed loan scams, unscrupulous debt adjusters and predatory lending practices.

"It is essential for us all to understand these topics so we can effectively provide assistance to the families in our communities that need help," he said, saying the court program is a way to "to keep a roof over the heads of people who need help in such difficult times.

Brown is the first official to sponsor a program to distribute foreclosure brochures, canvassing more than 400 homes with volunteers from his RE/MAX Connection real estate agency.

Under the new judiciary Residential Mortage Foreclosure Mediation Program, the courts require mediation in all cases in which homeowners living in their homes contest foreclosure actions by lenders. However, a homeowner is ineligible if he is in bankruptcy proceedings.

Volunteer mediators meet with eligible homeowners and their lenders in an effort to resolve the foreclosure action and renegotiate the terms of the mortgage agreement.

If a homeowner does not respond to a foreclosure complaint filed against him, the court will notify him of the mediation program, which remains an option before the matter proceeds to a sheriff's sale of the property.

All counties are now participating in the program.

Municipal officials said they now can take steps to notify residents of the mediation programs, other assistance programs and foreclosure scams that state officials alerted them to at the seminar.

Pemberton Township Council President Dianne Stinney said it was one of the best briefings she has ever attended.

She said she hopes to post the mediation program and its contact information on the township Web site and will ask the township clerk to place it on the e-mail lists the clerk uses.

There were 52 foreclosures last year in her township — higher than usual, she said.

"So many people are finding themselves out of a job all of a sudden and in foreclosure because they can't pay the mortgage," said Stinney, who lost her day care job a year ago.

MORE INFORMATION

For information on residential mortgage foreclosure mediation, visit www.njforeclosuremediation.org or call (888) 989-5277 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays.

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