New Jersey Governor Chris Christie pleaded for audience assistance during a recent address as he sought to duck a tough question about helping homeowners who can’t pay their mortgages.
ABC News reporter Jim Hoffer asked the governor to explain why New Jersey ranks last out of 18 states who have received hundreds of millions in funds from the US Treasury Department to help unemployed or underemployed homeowners to avoid foreclosure.
Specifically, New Jersey has distributed less than $4 million of a $300 million grant, placing the Garden State in last place among states that have received grants from the Treasury’s Hardest Hit Fund.
When first asked why New Jersey was so stingy with the money, Christie said, “because the courts have placed a moratorium on foreclosures.”
When Hoffer pointed out that a moratorium has not prevented others states from distributing the money to their troubled
homeowners, Christie implored the audience to “please, help me ignore him.”
According to the State Department of Banking & Insurance website, in 2010 there were more than 58,000 foreclosures in the state. The totals for 2011 and 2012 were incomplete.
Interestingly, the New Jersey HomeKeeper Program homepage opens with the expression “Welcome. We are here to help.”
According to The Christian Science Monitor and CoreLogic, a company that tracks real estate conditions nationwide, New Jersey is the state with the largest "supply" of distressed properties (measured in months it would take to sell them).
Following the Garden State are Illinois, Maryland, Florida, Delaware, Georgia, Connecticut, Alabama, California, Washington, and Michigan, which all exceed the national average of nine months' supply of distressed properties that aren't yet for sale.
In a phone conversation with NewJerseyNewsroom.com, New Jersey Senator Raymond J. Lesniak (D-20th Dist.) points out that the HomeKeeper Program is a “use it or lose it” proposition, meaning that undistributed funds will revert back to the US Treasury eventually.
Lesniak has introduced legislation to “open the spigots” on this reservoir of mortgage relief funds. “The need is
now,” Lesniak says, “we’ve already had tens of thousands of homeowners who could have had their homes saved.”
Lesniak added that he hoped the current presidential election race has nothing to do with Christie’s apparent indifference to the benefits that the HomeKeeper program might bring to distressed homeowners.
Lesniak noted that the governor has spent a good deal of time during the month of September campaigning out of state on behalf of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Housing is an important part of the state’s economy and a bad economy is an important part of the Romney message regarding why he would be a better choice than the incumbent.
Lesniak declined to speculate that there was any connection between the governor’s stance and the Romney message, simply saying, “We all know that Chris Christie is a political animal.”
A call and email to spokespersons at the Governor’s Office did not produce any reply in time for this report.
According to the Huffington Post, in New Jersey HomeKeeper funds have been distributed to some 498 families since the program began. About 2,000 other NJ applicants have been denied access to the funds.
On average, New Jersey recipients have received about $8,000 in mortgage assistance. At this average, about 37,500 homeowners could be aided by the program if the full amount were distributed.
According to the New Jersey HomeKeeper website, within the first five years of the closing date of the HomeKeeper mortgage loan, the full amount of the loan will be due and payable upon the sale, transfer, or refinancing of the property (except for a lower rate/term refinance) or if the applicant ceases to occupy the property as his/her primary residence. After the fifth year, the HomeKeeper mortgage loan amount shall be forgiven 20 percent per year, to be forgiven in full at the end of the tenth year.
This language indicates that the mortgage assistance is free if the homeowner remains in the house for ten years.
The maximum loan is $48,000 total for any individual homeowner.