Black Jerseyans, Councilwoman Williams, Press for Foreclosure Moratorium Give Bill A Push Forward for Legal Relief

A determined coming together of some Essex County based destabilized homeowners went to Trenton and made an impassioned case for a Moratorium on Foreclosure, Tuesday, March 6th.

Organized by the NJ Hearings of Citizens Coalition Against Foreclosures (The Coalition), led by elder organizer Frederica Bey, these proud homeowners, speaking for themselves and for those like them who couldn’t, packed a hearing room at the Statehouse Annex to be heard by the NJ Assembly’s Committee on Housing and Community Development Committee.

At issue was Assembly Bill A3119, sponsored by Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker of Newark and Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake of East Orange, a bill that would establish a two year Moratorium on Foreclosures in order for beleaguered homeowners to address their crises and for the state to address the hidden hands driving the overall crisis.

 New Jersey leads the nation for the third year in a row in Foreclosures and the majority of the cases besieged by Foreclosures have been overwhelmingly African-American homeowners. Atlantic City is the city with the most Foreclosures. Essex County, the Greater Newark area, is the county with the most Foreclosures. While job and income loss are often the catalysts for homeowners facing the crisis, other factors are important and are institutionally being downplayed and dismissed by NJ courts, predatory lending  and improper handling of deeds, mortgages, and other related papers by the banks, denying challenged Black homeowners due process.

Newark’s Mayor Ras Baraka has already his city gradual divestment of all of its ties to Wells Fargo, an often cited culprit.

The room got quiet as a mouse when Bey contextualized the issue taking on the racial elephant in the room. She cited the Dred Scott Case, whose haunting anniversary was approaching, and how the unjust twist of irony of that case’s residual legacy is playing out now in New Jersey.

“Dred Scott and his wife were denied justice by Chief Justice Roger Taney and the Supreme Court because they said that they couldn’t be citizens, that they were 3/5ths of human beings, that the property rights of their owners were what was important.

“Now here we are, no longer slaves, standing up for our property rights, sometimes being fraudulently mistreated, and still our rights are not being respected,” she said forcefully.

Assemblywoman Helen Schepisi (R) of Westwood called the desired bill “a band aid.” 

“I am going to abstain and I am inclined to vote against it because I want to see something more wholistic,” she said raising the ire of many in the room.

 Jay Lee of Newark’s Department of Economic and Housing Development took issue with Schepisi’s cynical characterization of the bill. “Sometimes band-aids help. If you’re cut and bleeding and until you get to the ER, band aids help. We have a lot of people coming to us who need help. “This bill will give us more time to figure out how to help them,” he explained. 

Orange Councilwoman Donna K. Williams put a human face on the crisis. “These are real people with real problems and they’re bottom line doesn’t matter if you listen to the lenders who are opponents to the bill. These are our people who are coming to them for their mortgages, their customers, but when it comes to the bankers’ bottom line it is just not right that their customers from our community are not being given more consideration from both the banks and the judges, especially when they have been forthcoming and compliant,and when there are other options available,” she advocated.

Assemblyman Daniel Benson (D) of Hamilton Square agreed and then voted to move the bill out of Committee into the General Assembly when he said “Although it’s not perfect, this bill is about justice and dignity for a lot of our hardworking homeowners, and I thank each of you for putting a human face on it.”

The Committee voted to move the bill out of committee into the General Assembly. The Coalition meets on Thursday, March 8th, at East Orange City Council Chambers,  located at 44 City Hall Plaza, East Orange at 6pm.