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Watson Coleman Bill to Ensure Continuation of Foreclosure Mediation Program Released by Assembly Panel
Democratic Bill Among Several Advanced Amid Concerns Christie Has Failed to Stem N.J. Foreclosure Crisis
(TRENTON) - Amid increased concern that Gov. Christie has failed to stem New Jersey's foreclosure crisis, legislation Assembly Democrat Bonnie Watson Coleman sponsored to ensure the state's foreclosure mediation program continues was released Wednesday by an Assembly committee.
The bill (A-3396) comes amid continued worry Christie has failed to help many New Jersey homeowners facing foreclosure. New Jersey has the nation's second highest foreclosure rate, but Christie has been slow to spend $300 million in federal foreclosure aid.
The bill was released by the Assembly Housing and Local Government Committee after a special hearing on Christie's failure to move faster to help more homeowners.
New Jersey's Foreclosure Mediation Program was established in 2009 by the New Jersey Judiciary in response to an alarming increase in residential foreclosures. The bill (A-3396) ensures the Foreclosure Mediation Program's continuation by establishing it in statute.
"This is too valuable a program to leave to the whims of politics and ideology," said Watson Coleman (D-Mercer/Hunterdon), a leader in New Jersey's effort to help those facing foreclosure. "Fighting to ensure this program continues represents a major step toward more effectively protecting home ownership in New Jersey. Gov. Christie may be more interested in traveling the county and cuddling millionaires, but we are dedicated to helping families and protecting neighborhoods. We will not waver from this fight while working class families face the threat of needlessly losing their home."
The bill authorizes eligible homeowners to submit a mediation request, thereby initiating the process of scheduling a mediation session with their lender. Along with the mediation request, the homeowner may be required to submit additional information that may be necessary for creating a loan modification, or other agreement, but will not have to pay any fees to participate in the program.
The bill requires lenders to have a representative attend the mediation session, either in person or by telephone, who has authority to reach a mutually acceptable loan modification, loan workout, refinancing agreement, or other resolution.
If either party fails to attend a mediation session or make a good faith effort to mediate, courts will have the authority to penalize the party through a fine of up to $1,000, through allowing the other party to recover reasonable attorney's fees and litigation expenses, or through any other sanction the court deems appropriate.
"This is not a free ride," Watson Coleman said. "Both sides need to act responsibly and show interest in reaching a reasonable agreement, but it gives homeowners a chance. That's vitally important, both for our residents and our neighborhoods that can be destabilized by foreclosure. No one should lose their home when they have a chance to save it."
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