N.J. will create statewide foreclosure database in latest attempt to combat crisis

 A foreclosure sign is seen on the lawn of a home in Egg Harbor Township, N.J (Mel Evans/AP Photo)

A foreclosure sign is seen on the lawn of a home in Egg Harbor Township, N.J (Mel Evans/AP Photo)

In the latest attempt to battle the state’s ongoing foreclosure crisis, New Jersey will set up a statewide database of all homes under foreclosure.

Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law last week ordering the Department of Community Affairs to create the tracking system so state officials can observe larger trends and target services to those in need.

“To know what to do about [the foreclosure crisis], the first step has got to be to examine the data,” said Seton Hall University law professor Linda Fisher. “But it’s not always there and not always there in the form that it can be analyzed easily.”

Housing advocates praised the new law, saying it will make it easier for them to connect with homeowners struggling to pay their mortgages and who may be in need of assistance.

“Housing counselors and other folks [will] know when a property is at risk of foreclosure and can work with homeowners to make sure that they have all available resources and opportunities to stop that foreclosure and stay in their home,” said Staci Berger, president and CEO of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey.

According to RealtyTrac data from May, New Jersey has the highest foreclosure rate in the country, at one in every 1,117 homes under foreclosure.

Although many states have dug out from the foreclosure crisis, New Jersey continues to struggle in part because of the lingering effects of Superstorm Sandy and the fact that foreclosures in the Garden State go through the courts.

The database will combine information from local, county, and state government sources but will be closed off to the public.

Mary Melfi, the Hunterdon County Clerk and the legislative liaison for the Constitutional Officers Association of New Jersey, said she supported the idea behind the database but suggested that it would be difficult to create.

Melfi said her office did not have a systematic way of separating residential foreclosure documents from commercial ones, which will be necessary because the database will only include homes.

“I’d have to go in and look at every single one because they all have a docket number ‘F’ which stands for foreclosure. I have no idea whether it’s commercial or residential,” Melfi said. “The state along with the county offices — you just don’t have the staff to do that.”

Melfi said DCA officials were aware of the issue and were working on a solution.

Officials also said that foreclosed homes left abandoned were a blight on communities across the state. Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, D-Passaic, said many foreclosed houses in his hometown of Paterson continue to sit vacant for long stretches.

“You have a beautiful home that you’re paying $14,000 in taxes [on] and two doors down is a boarded-up property,” he said. “It just takes away from the overall property value and the quality of life of the residents.”

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