New Jersey mayors address foreclosure problems

Craig D. Frazier | 10/2/2014, 2:32 p.m.

Special to the AmNews

As the national economy continues to rebuild in the wake of the Great Recession, foreclosures have steadily declined in most housing markets. However, in New Jersey, reports say new foreclosure cases flood the courts, with more than 36,000 this year.

According to a report by the activist group, New Jersey Communities United, more than 88,000 homes have been foreclosed in New Jersey in the past four years—6,810 homes in Newark alone.

Mayor Ras Baraka in Newark and Mayor Tony Vauss in Irvington face similar housing issues in their neighboring cities. Leaders in both municipalities address economic, public health and crime, but they have different solutions to foreclosures and eminent domain. New Jersey activists argue that preventing foreclosures is a public benefit. They want city officials to buy homes from banks that are in foreclosure and allow current homeowners to stay in their homes.

Irvington council members recently approved a resolution that brings the town closer to using eminent domain to seize underwater mortgages, a controversial tactic that is gaining momentum in many cities across the country in the aftermath of the foreclosure crisis. Vauss wants to convince private developers that the township is ready to do business by packaging properties already taken for nonpayment of taxes into “redevelopment areas.”

“With eminent domain, a lot of people are under the illusion that the municipality will do something so they can keep their homes and not pay the mortgage,” said Vauss. “I really don’t like talking about eminent domain.”

In Newark, the City Council has already passed a resolution that would allow homeowners trapped in certain types of mortgages, known as a Private Label Security loans, to participate in a program that repackages mortgages at terms the homeowners could afford.

“We’re going to employ eminent domain to take mortgages from the banks if necessary, as part of a strategy to pressure banks to work with local borrowers to keep their homes,” Baraka said.