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Foreclosure Crisis Builds in East Orange and Newark

Bob Hennelly for WBGO

Listening to Wall Street based business reporting you would believe that the nation’s foreclosure crisis is in the nation’s rear view mirror. But a WBGO investigation has found that here in New Jersey in places like Newark and East Orange foreclosures are hollowing out entire neighborhoods.

A recent meeting in East Orange brought out  local activists committed to helping their neighbors hold on to their homes.

It is a hot weeknight in the East Orange City Council chamber and lead organizer Fredrica Bey brings the Hearing of Citizens Coalition to order asking for a benediction.

Credit Bob Hennelly for WBGO
Residents in East Orange at a recent hearing on foreclosures

On hand are dozens of residents in the facing foreclosure. Also in attendance members of the City Council including Councilman Ted Green, who just won the town’s June primary for Mayor. He introduces fellow Councilman Romal Bullock who, as a tax assessor in Newark is on the front lines of an under reported neighborhood economic implosion.

“When I was a little kid the Sheriff..You hear about the Sheriff, wild west, there was a cartoon ricochet rabbit out here enforcing the laws but I work full time for the City of Newark as a tax assessor and the Sheriff that i know much more as the name on top of foreclosure deeds. And there are lots and lots of them every day they come through.”

Just Googling Foreclosure on-line on real estate sites like Zillow you will see just how widespread the crisis is for places like East Orange, Newark, even Atlantic City. A steady stream of speakers tell their family’s story. Janet Mitchell had a hard time holding back the tears.

"I have been living in East Orange for almost 40 years but my problem is with my Aunt Pauline that I am trying to fight for who is a senior who lost her home after her husband paid for her home through tax sale in East Orange. Her home was on fire the day before Christmas, she was homeless. I found her someplace to stay but where she is is very uncomfortable and her home was lost for a tax lien sale of less than $500 which she did not know at the time. Because of her losing her home she lost her savings and everything like that so I am here fighting for my Aunt I am trying to fight for my home on 84 McKay Avenue.”

Charlotte Cardenas tells the crowd that a foreclosure program she signed up for, promoted by the Obama Administration, was great for a few years but now has got her behind a mounting mortgage interest eight ball.

"Although I am not facing foreclosure right now I can foresee it coming very soon. Back in 2009 when we had the collapse, I signed a deal with Chase for 2 percent Obama deal for five years. But what I didn't now was the fact that the interest off those five years is now going behind the loan, when instead of owing $200,000, now I owe $300,00, so that's where I am now and so shortly I will be facing foreclosure because there is no way I can manage that amount."

Clifton Beckley
Credit Bob Hennelly for WBGO
Irvington resident Clifton Beckley and others fighting foreclosures

Irvington resident Clifton Beckley, a Vietnam era veteran is a success story.  Working with NJ Communities United and local veterans, he fought foreclosure and ultimately the bank relented and negotiated a deal that kept him and his family in his home.  He coaches the crowd not to be ashamed, but to organize.

"Because the psychological part of this by people being ashamed that they have gotten themselves into a situation they are going to lose their home. So we don't do anything. One day you have a neighbor the next day you get up and that house is empty and a lot of times that is because the person is ashamed about what has happened to him thinking it is his fault. If you don't fight, you will never win."

Laura Walsh is a consumer advocate and anti-foreclosure activist.  She has counseled hundreds of families and works with a Passaic Count lawyer, Joseph Chang.  Walsh says local residents are now paying the price for the Federal Government's decision to bail out the nation's largest Wall Street banks.

"It became public policy in the United States in 2007 and 2008 when they discovered no mortgages in the mortgage backed securities that somebody was going to take the loss and decision was made at the highest level of power in the country that the people were going to take the loss. And by people I mean taxpayers, which is everybody here right and homeowners. And that’s what you see playing out in New jersey at this time."

Walsh says it is key that homeowners know their rights and educate themselves about basic legal procedures, including things as basic as how they are legally supposed to get the foreclosure notice in the first place. 

"Proper service is (her knocking on podium) ‘Hello-Is this Jane Doe?’ ‘Yes’ ‘Here’ that is service. The service is not throwing the complaint and the summons on th porch. Service is not throwing it at the curb. Service is not giving it to your neighbor somebody you may have never met six blocks away. This happens all the time. You have a right to be properly served and the court can not make you do anything unless (knocking) this occurs. If that happens that is one of the few times the court will roll back foreclosure."

Walsh told the crowd that there is a stark contrast between how families facing foreclosure in places like East Orange are treated those families in a similar situation in white suburbs.

“Normally what happens, and this is the difference between white and black communities, I am embarrassed to tell you—it is true-in white communities somebody from the real estate office will knock on a family’s door and find out if they are there and have plans to leave before an eviction date is set. And usually they give them a letter that offers cash to cover moving expenses. That doesn’t happen much here but is should and it happens in other communities.”

Anita Sims Rainford from East Orange had a full career at AT&T and spent ten years after that working for the Newark Public Schools. For her back to back deaths in her family found her on the brink of foreclosure. After the forum she said she was glad she came.

“And for most of my life I have been able to pay my bills and have discretionary income. I hit a perfect storm of hard times caring for my mother and husband who both passed away in March within a week of each other. And I am currently unable to work. With all of that being a caregiver I fell behind and so I now find myself in a position of being foreclosed on and i think this information is helpful because I can see myself out of this situation.”

So far, the Hearing of Citizens Coalition has managed to get the ear of key political players like former Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver and State Senator Ron Rice who have drafted a proposal for a statewide foreclosure moratorium.