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'Homekeeper' helping few families in New Jersey

September 25, 2012 12:20:47 PM PDT
With just a few minutes on the internet, it's as clear as thousands of red dots that New Jersey is mired in a foreclosure crisis.

One of those dots represents Odessa Jenkin's home of nearly 30 years.

"When you were working, you made your mortgage payment?" Eyewitness News investigative reporter Jim Hoffer asked.

"Right," Odessa Jenkins said.

"Because you kept a strict budget?" Hoffer asked.

"Yes," Jenkins replied.

But last year, Ms. Jenkins was laid off at her job at a daycare and quickly fell behind in her mortgage. The bank moved to foreclose.

"They want to take the house," Jenkins said.

That's when Ms. Jenkins turned to the state for help.

Two years ago, New Jersey received $300 million from the federal government to help the unemployed from losing their homes.

The state used that money to create the "Homekeeper Loan" program.

Nine months after applying to Homekeeper , Ms. Jenkins was told she doesn't qualify.

Now, losing her home is almost certain.

"You're going to keep fighting?" Hoffer asked.

"Yeah," Jenkins said.

"Why?" Hoffer asked.

"Why, because to me I've been fighting all my life," Jenkins answered.

But our investigation has found that Ms. Jenkins is representative of the majority of unemployed or under-employed New Jersey residents facing foreclosure whom have turned to the Homekeeper program only to be told they do not qualify.

"Aren't you in some ways, the perfect candidate?" Hoffer asked.

"We thought we were. We thought, we've got it this is it. We found something to help us keep our home," Brenda Klein said.

"What happened?" Hoffer asked.

"We don't know actually. We're still trying to figure that one out," Klein said.

Brenda Klein who used to make $80,000 a year in the garment industry turned to New Jersey Homekeeper when she and her husband were laid off.

They filed hundreds of financial documents.

Month after month, she waited for word as the mortgage bills piled up.

One year after filing for help, she was told she no longer qualified because she owed too much in back mortgage payments and her home was foreclosed.

"But we weren't the ones to take the time to let the arrears build up. If you'd have taken a month, maybe two, we would have qualified. We'd still be sitting in our home."

Data Eyewitness News obtained show since 2010, Homekeeper has only approved 498 families for foreclosure assistance, but nearly 2,000 homeowners have been denied help.

In fact, less than $4-million of the $300-million has been spent ranking New Jersey last among 18 recipient states in giving out these emergency foreclosure funds.

"It's shameful," said State Sen. Ray Lesniak, (D) Union.

State Sen. Ray Lesniak's constituents are among the hardest hit by New Jersey's foreclosure crisis.

"We have over 100,000 homes in foreclosure process, 100,000 plus families that could keep their homes if we utilize this money from the federal government," Lesniak said.

So why has New Jersey been so slow to get the money to families? Eyewitness News put the question to Governor Christie.

"Why has it taken so long, more than a year to get the money out to families?" Hoffer asked.

"Because the courts placed a moratorium on foreclosures," Governor Christie answered.

"No the dispersing of the money. The $300 million?" Hoffer asked.

"The courts placed a moratorium on foreclosures so our policy was put on hold, waiting to see what the courts were ultimately going to do regarding foreclosure. And that's why we haven't moved any more quickly than we have already," Governor Christie answered.

"The moratorium did not stop other states from helping families already facing foreclosure." Hoffer said.

When Hoffer tried to press the Governor on this, it's clear he had no real answer.

"Governor, this is an issue facing the state, why are you blowing it off?" Hoffer asked.

"Michael, please help me ignore him, go ahead," Christie said.

"A lot of people facing foreclosure," Hoffer said.

While the governor refuses to answer, families face losing their homes as the denial letters keep coming.

"What did you think when you got that denial letter?" Hoffer asked.

"It really set me back to hear that I was denied," Celeste Wright said.

Eyewitness News tried for a month to get an interview with the head of the state agency that oversees the foreclosure funds, but they declined our requests.

A spokesperson says new reforms are being implemented that will ease qualification requirements and speed up the application process.

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If you have a tip about this or any other issue you'd like investigated, please give our tipline a call at 877-TIP-NEWS. You may also e-mail us at the.investigators@abc.com.

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