ATLANTIC CITY — In the heart of a region hit hardest by foreclosures, Gov. Phil Murphy signed a package of bills Monday designed to help homeowners and assist communities dealing with blighted properties.
Murphy signed nine pieces of bipartisan legislation aimed at addressing the state’s highest-in-the-nation foreclosure crisis into law during a news conference at Dante Hall Theater.
The greater Atlantic City metropolitan area has New Jersey’s highest rate of foreclosed properties, with nearly one in every 42 homes engaged in some level of the process. Statewide, the foreclosure rate is one in every 1,000.
“The foreclosure crisis has hurt our economy and jeopardized economic security of too many New Jersey families,” Murphy said. “Our communities cannot succeed while vacant or foreclosed homes sit empty or while families live in limbo.”
The package of bills Murphy signed include many of the recommendations contained in a report from the Special Committee on Residential Foreclosures, created by state Chief Justice Stuart Rabner. The new laws require lenders to notify homeowners before the foreclosure filing process begins, dedicate annual funding to mediation and counseling services, and expedite the foreclosure process.
Jim Johnson, special counsel for the Murphy administration’s Atlantic City transition, said tackling the area’s foreclosure crisis was a “vital and important step forward.”
“The foreclosure crisis hit the families of Atlantic County harder than almost any county in the nation,” said Johnson. “These bills offer a better path for the region and hope for families in despair.”
The package will also put so-called vacant “zombie” properties back on the market quicker.
“Most New Jerseyans can point to a property in their neighborhood that hasn’t seen an owner or tenant for years on end,” said Assemblyman John Armato, D-Atlantic, who co-sponsored legislation to require foreclosure sales of vacant or abandoned properties to be conducted within 60 days of judgment. “Some of these properties become eyesores from lack of upkeep, and diminish the quality of life in the community. Setting an exact timeframe for foreclosed properties to be sold will help alleviate this problem.”
Additionally, Murphy signed a bill which codifies the Foreclosure Mediation Program, which was established in 2009 by the state Judiciary in response to the increase in foreclosures. The new law creates a dedicated fund for the mediation program using $60 from every $155 foreclosure filing fee.
Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, who co-sponsored the legislation, said vacant homes in foreclosure can impact property values in a community.
“We should give homeowners who are struggling the opportunity to keep their homes and avoid the ripple effects of foreclosures on neighborhoods,” said Mazzeo.