Gov. Chris Christie today signed a bill into law that creates protections against foreclosures for owners of homes still being rebuilt after damage by Superstorm Sandy, though he did so with a scathing statement that warns it could violate federal law.
Christie has vetoed earlier efforts at Sandy-related foreclosure protections but signed this version, which allows homeowners to apply to the Department of Community Affairs for a mortgage forbearance or to courts for a stay of foreclosure proceedings. But he called lawmakers selfish and accused them of political grandstanding.
“I am very concerned that these new requirements may adversely impact the state’s recovery efforts, jeopardize federal Sandy funding, increase borrowing costs, and ultimately delay Sandy-impacted residents’ return to their homes,” Christie said in a signing statement. “Some of this bill may violate federal law and negatively impact victims; most of it is a transparent, useless political exercise by candidates for re-election falsely pandering to victimized voters.”
Christie directed to DCA to establish priority in the mortgage forbearance for Sandy-affected homeowners whose homes aren’t yet fully reconstructed. He said the new law allows Sandy victims to claim mortgage relief even for default problems unrelated to storm damage.
“That is how sloppily written, ill-conceived and politically pandering this bill is from the Legislature. I have chosen to sign it to give Sandy victims the morsels of relief this vanity exercise of a bill offers,” Christie said. “I will use my executive authority to attempt to repair the mountains of damage this could cause to our federal funding flow and our state housing market.”
Under what was bill A-333, the Department of Community Affairs will have to extend the completion deadline for projects funded through the Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, Elevation and Mitigation or Low to Moderate Income Homeowners Rebuilding grant for applicants who can demonstrate the delay was the fault of their builder or due to delays by the DCA in approving the builder doing the project.
Homeowners assisted through the RREM or LMI programs or who received rental assistance from FEMA as a result of damage to their primary residence could apply for mortgage forbearance. That period would end a year after a certificate of occupancy for recovery and rebuilding program work has been issued; July 1, 2019; or regarding a property in foreclosure proceedings, 10 days after a sheriff’s sale.
The law requires DCA to report where all funding associated with application denials, wait-list placements, and withdrawals has instead been allocated, going back to the start of the recovery effort, and it requires quarterly reports through 2018.
“The idea of Sandy victims facing foreclosure because of problems they did not create is asinine,” said Assemblyman Adam Taliaferro, D-Gloucester.
Sen. Jennifer Beck, R-Monmouth, said there are still 3,200 Sandy victims with incomplete home elevation and construction projects.
“We’ve spent two long years trying to get Sandy families protection from foreclosures and so today is a good day for us,” said Joe Mangino, a Sandy survivor and co-founder of the New Jersey Organizing Project. “Even though the governor doesn’t seem happy about signing the bill, we are happy it got signed.”
He also vetoed two bills, including one that would have extended the Urban Enterprise Zones in Bridgeton, Camden, Newark, Plainfield and Trenton through the end of the 2018. Those zones — where features included cutting the sales tax in half — expired at the end of December.
Christie said the UEZs were supposed to be temporary when created in the mid-1980s and that extending those five would cost the state $40 million over two years. “Thirty years of experience demonstrates that the UEZ program does not work,” he said.
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