Mayor now supports freeholder president’s S.U.N. initiative

IRVINGTON, NJ — Two years ago, when Mayor Tony Vauss was running for office, some beleaguered homeowners wanted him to take the suggestion from a nonprofit group to use Irvington’s eminent domain powers to take mortgages back from the banks and lenders threatening to foreclose on them.

Although this may have helped struggling homeowners keep their homes, Vauss disagreed with this approach as both a candidate and later mayor.

But now, two years later, Vauss said he is cautiously optimistic about Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders President Britnee Timberlake and her move to bring a representative from Boston Community Capital to town to talk about its Saving Urban Neighborhoods initiative on Monday, Dec. 5, an approach she said has been successful in helping some struggling homeowners to keep their homes.

“President Timberlake and Freeholder Toro wanted to sponsor a program where they could help residents who are in need of some assistance,” Vauss said Wednesday, Dec. 7, at the township’s annual Holiday Tree Lighting Spectacular in Civic Square. “Some are losing their homes, as a matter of fact, and they just wanted to share information on how people can get help in saving their homes. I remember, when I was running for office, there was a lot of talk about eminent domain and taking people’s properties. It sounds good in one aspect, but in the other aspect, people won’t be able to get loans to buy homes, because the banks will be afraid that you’re going to declare eminent domain and just take the property.”

And that, Vauss said, is not good for anyone in Irvington. He said ideally it would be nice to find a “win-win” compromise

“We’ve got to look at it twofold and understand our community and have a direction that we’re going,” said Vauss. “I think, as long as you’re helping people, that’s one aspect. But I don’t see too many people trying to help people. A lot of times, it’s about the almighty dollar and that’s what I keep an eye on.”

Vauss said he’s still cautiously optimistic about what Boston Community Capital and its S.U.N. initiative might be able to do to help struggling Irvington homeowners that qualify to stay in their homes.

“Yeah, it’s possible to get a win-win situation, where everybody wins,” said Vauss. “That’s why every situation, every organization, every company has to be vetted to make sure that it’s in the best interests of our community.”

The Irvington event on Monday, Dec. 5, was a free mortgage-assistance workshop for homeowners in town facing foreclosure. Timberlake runs a nonprofit organization that helps families in need and said that’s why she brought Boston Community Capital and the S.U.N. initiative to East Orange on Monday, Sept. 26, and to Irvington on Monday, Dec. 5.

“There is zero relationship between what I do as my other occupation,” said Timberlake on Monday, Sept. 26, and reiterated again on Monday, Dec. 5. “This is just something we came across as the Freeholder board. The S.U.N. initiative is a nonprofit.”

According to Boston Community Capital officials, “To date, the S.U.N. initiative has helped over 750 families repurchase their homes with new mortgages, reducing their mortgage principal balances by an average of 35 percent.”

“A Newark homeowner recently repurchased his home with a 70 percent reduction in his mortgage principal balance, saving $684 each month with his new S.U.N. loan,” said Boston Community Capital officials in a press release on Tuesday, Dec. 6.

Irvington NAACP Vice President Kathleen Witcher, who is a champion for other homeowners who have been fighting to keep their homes and stay in them, agreed with Vauss that the company and its home mortgage rescue program must be thoroughly vetted before anyone recommends them to someone in need.

“Boston Capital had some victories in buying toxic mortgages and allowing homeowners to remain on their properties,” said Witcher on Tuesday, Dec. 6. “But that was then. So, hopefully, they have come to the area to help against foreclosure.”