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New details emerge in 'Homekeeper' investigation

September 26, 2012 3:32:15 PM PDT
The Treasury Department gave $300 million dollars to New Jersey under a use or it or lose it deal. The agency overseeing the foreclosure funds says it's adding staff to speed up the process, but the changes come too late for many families.

JIM HOFFER: When you got this letter what did you think?
CELESTE WRIGHT: I was somewhat crushed.

The single unemployed mother is among 26-hundred New Jersey families denied financial help from the state's Homekeeper foreclosure fund. That's twice as many as those who have been given loans.

"The program was set up for, you know to help people and I can't believe such a small amount is actually getting help," Wright said.

New numbers given to us by the state shows some improvement over the numbers in our initial report given to us by the Treasury Department. Still, they reveal that the vast majority of the $300-million dollars in federal funds remain unspent. Two years into the Homekeeper program and $47 million dollars has gone to help 1200 families, still far below most other states.

"It's shameful, we have over 100-thousand homes in foreclosure process 100-thousand plus families that could keep their homes if we utilize this money from the federal government," State Senator Ray Lesniak (D-Union) said.

New Jersey's Senior Senator responded to our investigation saying he's baffled by the state's lack of urgency to the foreclosure crisis and he blames the Governor:

"Governor Christie has an aversion to getting any help from the federal government. Look, he turned his back on $6 billion dollars that we had to build the tunnel, turned his back on $400 million dollars in the race to the top which is an educational program," Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) said.

When we asked, the Governor never gave a real reason for Homekeeper's poor performance:

JIM HOFFER: "Why has it taken so long, more than a year to get the money out to families?"
GOVERNOR CHRISTIE: "Because the courts placed a moratorium on foreclosures."

But the moratorium had no impact on other states distributing the funds. Now in response to our investigation, Democratic state lawmakers have called for hearings to find out why only 15 -percent of the funds have been spent. One reason, may be because so few even know about the Homekeeper program:

"I never been to this website and I have spent hours and hours just searching for help," home owner Joseph Colon said, acknowledging that it was the first time he had seen it. Colon, a laid off homeowner, says the state needs to do more outreach so people facing foreclosure like him can apply for the available funds.

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