Stop Foreclosures

The Record ( — Monday, October 11, 2010


Over the last few years, as the nation's economy has drifted into rough and turbulent waters, thousands of New Jersey homeowners have faced the clear and present danger of having their homes foreclosed.

Even these days, as the economy tries to right itself, as Washington and Wall Street continue the protracted debate over the best ways to remedy our enduring financial ills, the possibility of losing one's home remains a grim reality that only adds to an uncertain future.

Which is why it is all so disheartening to read, in recent days, of widespread reports and complaints from attorneys and even judges that some mortgage lenders and services are cutting corners in the foreclosure process, up to and including the practice of having employees or agents sign affidavits they haven't actually reviewed.

As Staff Writer Kathleen Lynn reported last week, the questionable foreclosure practices have been drawn into sharper focus since three major lenders — JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America and GMAC Mortgage — have said they are suspending foreclosure actions in order to review possible flaws in affidavits and other legal documents in the 23 states where foreclosures go through the courts. On Friday, Bank of America went one step further, announcing that it was halting foreclosure proceedings in all 50 states.

"It's unconscionable that something as dramatic as taking someone's home can be done so cavalierly," Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said last week during a stop in Teaneck, where he announced that New Jersey will get an additional $188 million in federal aid to help homeowners facing foreclosure. That brings to $300 million the amount the state is getting from the U.S. Treasury's Hardest Hit Fund.

Menendez and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., are asking some 120 mortgage lenders and servicers about possible irregularities, and are also seeking a federal investigation.

Certainly, in regard to the housing meltdown that helped land the nation in the recession it is trying to dig out of, there is ample blame to go around among lenders and borrowers — lenders who played fast and loose with the rules, and sometimes with sound financial reason; borrowers who perhaps tried to reach too far beyond their resources.

Yet regardless of how a given homeowner got into the mess of not being able to meet his mortgage obligations, there are correct and legal processes that must be adhered to in New Jersey and many others states before anyone can be forced to abandon their property.

Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, head of N.J. Citizen Action, the state's largest housing counselor, said the delaying action by the lenders will "buy [homeowners] some time, to try to find an alternative or get the money together."

Certainly, given the carnage the economic downturn has already wrought, no one should be in a great rush to foreclose on the homes of people who may or may not have anywhere else to go. In these times, at least, a large dose of compassion seems in order.

Slapdash accounting and rash, irresponsible actions in regard to lending and borrowing all helped to feed into the fine mess we are now in, economically. It does no one any good for lenders to now use the same streamlined approach when it comes to foreclosing.

Taking someone's home is a serious business. It should be treated as such.

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