Foreclosure Activity Up 71% In NJ, RealtyTrac Says

The Record ( — Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Record

Foreclosure activity rose 71 percent in New Jersey last year, as lenders continued to deal with a backlog of troubled properties, according to a report released Thursday.

At the same time, foreclosures nationwide dropped 18 percent, to the lowest level since before the recession.

About 1.9 percent of New Jersey housing units had foreclosure filings last year, compared with 0.85 percent in the nation, according to RealtyTrac, a California company that follows the distressed housing market.

New Jersey ranked second in the nation in the rate of all foreclosure filings, just behind Florida. The state ranked fifth in completed foreclosures — in which homes are repossessed by banks — which were up 34 percent.

Lenders are dealing with troubled Garden State properties that piled up when foreclosure activity slowed to a trickle in 2011, while courts and the mortgage industry dealt with reports of industry abuses. In addition, New Jersey is one of two dozen states that require that foreclosures go through the courts, which also slows the process.

The increase in foreclosure filings in New Jersey comes at a time when some government programs to help homeowners in trouble have expired, according to Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, head of N.J. Citizen Action, the state's largest housing counselor.

"We have fewer tools in our toolbox," Salowe-Kaye said. For example, the state HomeKeeper program, which offered up to $48,000 in aid to homeowners after job losses, has ended.

And, Salowe-Kaye said, struggling homeowners still face serious economic challenges. While the state's unemployment rate has declined to 6.4 percent in November, it remained higher than that month's national rate of 5.8 percent (which dropped to 5.6 percent in December). In the first 11 months of 2014, Garden State employers created 30,600 jobs, but "that's not enough to make a dent," Salowe-Kaye said.

"There's a lack of jobs, a lack of programs and a lack of direct assistance for rebuilding after [superstorm] Sandy," Salowe-Kaye said. "A lot of the homeowners coming to us for help are Sandy-related." She said in many of those cases, homeowners lost their jobs when their employers shut their doors after the storm.

In Bergen County, about 4,267 housing units faced foreclosure filings last year, ranging from a lender's notice that the homeowner is in default on the mortgage all the way through to sale of the property at sheriff's auction. That's up 59 percent from the previous year. In Passaic, 3,741 units had filings, up 65 percent, RealtyTrac said.

Atlantic City had the highest rate of foreclosure filings of any metropolitan area of over 200,000 population in the nation, at 3 percent of housing units. The city has been hard hit by the recent closings of four of its casinos, resulting in the loss of thousands of jobs.

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