NJ Advocates Pressure Gov. Murphy To Sign Housing Foreclosure Bill

Published September 8, 2022
By Eric Kiefer

ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — The battle for foreclosure reform continues in New Jersey.

On Tuesday, community leaders and elected officials gathered at St. Matthew AME Church in Orange in support of a proposed state law, A793/S1427 that has been dubbed the “Community Wealth Preservation Program” (watch the video below).

The bill – which currently sits on the desk of Gov. Phil Murphy – would reduce the amount of cash that people need to bring to the table in order to buy a foreclosed home and give them extra time to pay back the rest. Buyers would have to pay 3.5 percent down, with the rest of the money due in 90 days. Currently, buyers need to pay 20 percent down – with a cash or money order as the only payment options. They have 30 days to pay the remaining balance, with interest accruing on the 11th day.

It's cash that many people don’t have, especially in an economy struggling with inflation, advocates say.

If the bill becomes law, families, nonprofits and people who plan to live in the community will be able to compete at sheriff’s sales against “flippers” and corporations who only seek to profit by buying the home – not to actually live in it, advocates say.

The problem? The proposed law may face a conditional veto from her fellow Democratic Party member in the governor’s office, according to its sponsor, Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake (District 34).

Timberlake – who supported Murphy's re-election bid – said her proposal is a “creative solution” to a longstanding problem in New Jersey.

“It will ensure your neighbors can save their family home from foreclosure, open doors for people who want to live in the community they love and allow nonprofits to create affordable homeownership and rental opportunities,” said Timberlake, whose recently redrawn district represents Belleville, Bloomfield, East Orange, Glen Ridge, Nutley and Orange.

“The Community Wealth Preservation Program is a giant step toward closing the racial wealth gap and reducing the number of foreclosures in our state,” Timberlake added.

Some of Timberlake’s peers in the state Legislature have questioned some parts of the bill, including Assemblywoman Beth Sawyer, a Republican who represents the 3rd District.

Sawyer, a real estate agent and broker who has blamed “rising property taxes and other related costs like insurance and utilities” for the current foreclosure spike in New Jersey, pointed to one provision that requires buyers to live in the home for seven years or face stiff fines when the bill came up for a vote in the Assembly, the New Jersey Monitor reported.

“Think what just happened over the last two years — people lost their lives, they lost their jobs, people moved away,” Sawyer said. “This is going to basically hold these people hostage to their home for seven years. If they can’t make the payments, what happens? We have another foreclosure crisis.”

But advocates maintain that the bill is urgently needed to help combat a widening wealth gap in the state.

State Democratic Chairman Leroy Jones was among them, lending support for the proposed law on Tuesday.

"We are asking the governor, who is of like mind and understands the issues we face daily, to sign this bill into law," Jones said. "It is the power of the people who will help get this across the finish line."

Carol Lynn Patterson, associate pastor of First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, said that home ownership is one of the main ways that working-class people can leave something to their next generation of family members.

“If we continue to allow the working-class home owners in our cities to lose their property to big banks, families will have nothing to build on in our communities,” Patterson said.

“Time and again, the government has rescued the rich,” Patterson continued. “We bailed out the auto industry in 2008 and 2018. We bailed out banks in 2009. We bailed out the airlines in 2021. Yet, whenever the government gives access or an economic advantage to the working-class, the wealthy cry foul.”

The Rev. Charles Boyer, pastor of Greater Mount Zion AME Church of Trenton, was another speaker at Tuesday’s rally who urged Murphy to sign the bill.

“Homeownership is more than the American Dream – it is a key driver to a family's wealth,” Boyer said. “In a state where the median household wealth of white families is $322,500 compared to that of Black families with a mere median household wealth of $17,700, we bear witness to the ways in which lack of access to homeownership has served as a barrier to the social and economic mobility of New Jersey's Black families for generations.”

Boyer referenced a phrase that Murphy often used during his last campaign for governor: creating a “fairer, more just New Jersey.”

“We cannot claim to be committed to a fairer, more just New Jersey, without addressing what is one of the starkest racial wealth gaps in this nation,” Boyer insisted. “Now is the time to act, and that action begins with signing the Community Wealth Preservation Program without further delay.”

Other support for the proposed law came from:

Orange Mayor Dwayne Warren - "It is no secret to us that the acquisition of real estate is a major pathway to prosperity for Black and Brown people worldwide. Homeownership has proven to be the best way to move into the middle and upper class."

Larry Hamm of the People Organization for Progress - "If we give you our vote, you should give us legislation that benefits our community. Let's make calls, send emails, write letters, and whatever else is required to get this bill passed. We can understand why the George Floyd police accountability act did not get passed at the federal level. There is no excuse here in New Jersey when Democrats control the Governor's office, Senate, and the General Assembly. Governor Murphy must sign this bill."

Staci Berger, President of the Housing & Community Network of New Jersey - "We receive calls daily from residents who need a safe place to live because they are short on their rent or mortgage. As the richest country in the world and one of the wealthiest states in the union, we have the resources to get this done and ask Governor Murphy to sign this bill without delay."

Christian Estevez, New Jersey Legislative & Political Director of CWA - "We are calling the Governor right now to stand up and do the right thing. Sign this bill and the clean-up bill into law as is because it is the right thing to do for the residents of New Jersey."