From the New Jersey Herald:
Faced with a foreclosure rate among the highest in the country, Sussex County officials took the first steps in a program designed to bring help to homeowners before the bank calls about late payments.
The freeholders asked department Administrator Stephen Gruchacz to look at ways his department can take a proactive approach to the problem and suggested the Housing Partnership as a starting point since former Freeholder Sue Zellman was executive director at the Dover-based organization before her retirement. The Housing Partnership is a HUD-certified counseling agency for mortgage delinquency and default resolution.
Gruchacz said the department has also begun talks with several mortgage companies and banks seeking a way to include information along with the monthly mortgage statements and is looking at ways to involve the Federal Housing Administration, which provides mortgage insurance on homes, among other services.
Sheriff Mike Strada, whose office handles auctions of foreclosed properties, the final step in a lengthy foreclosure proceeding, said currently 450 foreclosures are in the department’s system, meaning a court has issued a writ of foreclosure and the property can now be sold.
By the time his department gets a court writ to sell at auction, “it’s taken two to five years to get through the system,” and, he said, “something like 99 percent are going back to the bank (at auction) because there isn’t a bid.”
Most of the properties have a higher mortgage than the market value of property, making it unlikely to attract a buyer looking for a bargain.
He said the latest numbers given to him during a staff meeting — pulled from realtytrac.com — indicate New Jersey has the sixth highest rate of foreclosures among states and Sussex County has the highest foreclosure rate among New Jersey 21 counties.
Freeholder Rich Vohden, who has been following demographic trends in Sussex County since late 2013, uses the number of lis pendens, the formal notice from the lender that the borrower has fallen two payments behind, as his gauge.
Vohden said as of March 31, there were 9,131 lis pendens in Sussex County, an increase of 132 over the first of the month.
“I’m not being negative, I’m just reciting the facts,” he said. “I think it’s important we know where we are before we can decide how to go forward.”
He said the number of foreclosure proceedings “ties into all the other issues, such as the drop in home values, the drop in property valuation, even the loss of population.”