Advocates ask for action on bill that would keep foreclosed homes in local hands

Published August 30, 2022
By Dana Difilippo

Anti-poverty advocates are urging the governor to sign legislation that would help people facing foreclosure hang on to their homes and otherwise build community wealth.

Legislators passed a bill to create what’s called the Community Wealth Preservation Program in June, but Gov. Phil Murphy has yet to sign it. About 100 affordable housing advocates signed a letter they sent Murphy last month, urging him to approve it.

“Every single day that goes by without the protections offered by this legislation is a day that families and communities lose the ability to protect the single greatest mechanism for building wealth and achieving the American Dream,” the letter states.

The program would give families and community organizations the first shot at buying foreclosed properties at sheriff sales, ensuring the properties remain locally owned. It would also allow nonprofits to buy foreclosed properties to preserve affordable housing and create incentives for people to buy abandoned homes and live there, instead of investors flipping them for profit.

New Jersey has one of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation.

While state officials forbade evictions for homeowners facing foreclosure during the pandemic, that moratorium ended in mid-November. Since then, foreclosures have crept up steadily, with nearly 2,400 reported statewide in the first two quarters of this year.

At the same time, New Jersey has one of the worst racial wealth gaps in the nation.

Investors snapping up foreclosed homes — often in communities of color — have helped widen that gap, research shows. In May, Rutgers University researchers found corporate investors bought almost half of homes sold in Newark, contributing to “rapidly rising rents, decreased homeownership, higher barriers to affordable housing production goals, renter displacement, and less stable communities.”

“Sadly, this reality continues a long pattern of economic threats to predominantly Black and increasingly Latino neighborhoods in a state whose communities are among the most segregated in the country,” the researchers wrote.

Homeownership is the biggest wealth-generating tool, said Staci Berger, who heads the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey. The group signed the letter to Murphy.

“Families that own their homes have the assets to create and expand businesses, send their children to college, or build a nest egg for a secure retirement,” Berger said.

Matthew Hersh, the group’s director of policy and advocacy, said the Community Wealth Preservation Program would help families grow generational wealth.

“This is a really important bill that can not only allow families to keep these assets in the community, but in the event that that doesn’t happen, it can provide an opportunity for organizations like Habitat for Humanity to acquire the properties and then sell them as affordable housing to eligible families,” Hersh said.

Alyana Alfaro, a Murphy spokeswoman, declined to comment.