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MILAM: Improving protections for seniors facing foreclosure is a top priority

By Matthew Milam

I find it extremely disconcerting that New Jersey continues to face the highest property foreclosure rates in the nation. Despite trends reporting year-on-year improvements, the raw numbers indicate we can be doing much better.

In Cumberland County, one in every 333 homes is in some stage of foreclosure action. In Atlantic County, that number is one in every 530, and in Cape May County, it’s a little better at one in every 1,395. That said, those numbers remain unacceptable.

Seniors living on fixed incomes are most at risk for foreclosure. Their financial constraints, on top of the challenges that come up with aging, potential disability, loss of a spouse and lack family support are often what drive innocent tax delinquency. What’s worse is outstanding tax payments usually don’t exceed a couple hundred dollars.

The point here is, without serious changes, our current foreclosure system will continue to unconscionably uproot and displace many of New Jersey’s seniors.

Working with fellow Assembly members, including Vince Mazzeo, we have created legislation, A-5316, sensitive to the unique challenges confronting seniors. We modeled our reforms after programs that have seen success in other states.

Senior homeowners most vulnerable are those who may be experiencing symptoms of Alzheimer’s, dementia or other health issues. Many homeowners aren’t even aware of a tax bill simply due to improper notification. We can change that.

In addition to correspondence by mail or phone, there must be a home visit when notices go unanswered. Placing responsibility on the tax collector will also streamline the process ensuring expediency and transparency. Our legislation aims to provide seniors every opportunity to pay their bill before the tax lien process begins.

The security of our seniors is a top priority and we’re committed to improving New Jersey’s foreclosure outcomes, creating prosperous local communities and economies. We can’t waste any more time.

Assemblyman Matthew Milam (D-1st) is a representative in the New Jersey General Assembly for the First Legislative District, which spans Cape May, Atlantic and Cumberland counties.