NEWARK, NJ - Prominent members of Newark's African-American clergy community converged at an Essex County government hearing to argue that additional measures are needed to find some relief for local homeowners facing foreclosure. 

"This is a crisis of epidemic proportion in our particular county," said the Rev. Ronald Slaughter, the pastor of St. James AME Church in Newark, at a hearing held earlier this week at the Essex County Hall of Records. "To put someone out of their home after 15 or 20 years for missing a few payments, and not allowing them to make things right, is a crisis." 

After the 2008 financial meltdown, housing foreclosures skyrocketed around the country. Some areas, like Newark, never fully recovered. 

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According to a January report from ATTOM Data Solutions, a real estate data firm, New Jersey led the nation in foreclosures in 2017 at a rate of 1.61 percent of all housing units, compared to a rate of .51 percent nationally. The report noted that as of the end of 2017, there are 57,559 New Jersey properties with a foreclosure filing, including default notices, scheduled auctions or bank repossessions. 

Essex County has been particularly hard hit by the wave of foreclosures. According to statistics cited by Slaughter, provided by Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura, the county executed about 3,000 foreclosure notices in 2017. The county has collected more than $3 million in foreclosures fees from banking institutions, Slaughter stated. 

Essex County Freeholder Vice President Wayne Richardson proposed a motion to examine how the county could potentially provide foreclosure relief for local residents. These residents include those who live in Newark, many of whom are economically disadvantaged and find it especially difficult to make mortgage payments at high interest rates. 

"It's probably long past due," said Richardson, who noted that the motion could include a call for the divestment of county funds from financial institutions that have been cited for foreclosure abuses, including Wells Fargo. "More and more people are being affected. Banks have been happy to put people out on to the street, all for the money game."

Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr. acknowledged the adverse effect that the ongoing foreclosure crisis has on Newark and the rest of Essex County.

“Predatory lending schemes and aggressive foreclosure proceedings that some banks practice destabilizes neighborhoods and has a negative impact on families and the community," DiVincenzo said. "Although as a government, we cannot control the foreclosure process, we can support our residents and homeowners by sending a strong message to the banks that Essex County will only invest its funds with institutions that have client-friendly business practices and support community building.”

The Reverend Dr. David Jefferson, Sr., Esq., pastor of the Metropolitan Baptist Church in Newark, spoke out about how the community needs help in the face of foreclosure. 

"We have children, and we have parents, who are being snatched out of their homes with no place to go," said Jefferson. "Until we stop the financial institutions who are gaining from this, nothing is going to change. The only way to stop this is that you have to go to the root cause."

The Rev. Slaughter pointed out that while New Jersey leads the nation in foreclosures, Essex County has a unique opportunity to fight the crisis.

"We can become the moral and ethical standard on this issue in this country," Slaughter said. "We can move to stop the foreclosure crisis here. Like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, 'The time is always right to do what is right.' "