Irvington, sister cities well-represented at home mortgage foreclosure forum

Photo by Chris Sykes
Irvington NAACP member Ed Kaiser, center, stands with Orange City Council President Donna K. Williams, left, and Newark City Council President Mildred Crump on Wednesday, Jan. 25, at the Women In Support of the Million Man March’s Home Mortgage Foreclosure Forum that he helped Women In Support of the Million Man March founder Fredricka Bey organize to help connect homeowners across Essex County struggling to stay in their homes with individuals, organizations and institutions that might be able to help them.

NEWARK, NJ — Fredricka Bey and the Women In Support of the Million Man March held an installment of the ongoing home mortgage foreclosure prevention and education forums at Essex County College on Wednesday, Jan. 25.

Journalist Walter Fields moderated the forum and a number of area elected officials participated in the event, including Irvington NAACP member Ed Kaiser, whom Bey personally thanked for helping to organize the forum. He, in turn, thanked her for championing a cause near and dear to his heart.

“For almost three years now, we’ve been running mortgage foreclosure workshops and helping people avoid foreclosures and helping people save their homes,” said Kaiser on Wednesday, Jan. 25. “It’s not about real estate, it’s not about houses, it’s about keeping families in their homes, especially the two-parent families, because they were the ones targeted for the first-time buyer programs. And those are the families that are getting hit, destroyed and ruined. You don’t know what it’s like to see the kids’ furniture and toys in the dumpster, as the family was systematically destroyed.”

Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka addressed the forum, updating those in attendance about what his administration is doing to stave off the tide of home mortgage foreclosures in his city. He mentioned the recent move to invoke Newark’s eminent domain foreclosure powers to seize at risk properties from homeowners so banks are not able to take them back to resell at a profit.

“I know Irvington has an eminent domain law; whether they act on that or not is another issue,” Baraka said Wednesday, Jan. 25, with regard to the eminent domain tactic favored by Paul Karr, Denise Cole and other grassroots activists from New Jersey Communities United. The three are involved in the fight to keep financially struggling homeowners in their homes by staving off mortgage foreclosure.

“It allows them to take properties from the banks through eminent domain, based on underwater mortgages. They have to have been in Irvington or Newark. The City Council just passed it as part of our West Ward Life Study our model initiative there that we’re using before we go out and do it in a larger way, which says that foreclosures or underwater mortgages add blight to the community and, based on that, we can use eminent domain to begin to take those properties from folks,” Baraka added.

But Irvington Mayor Tony Vauss said his friend and Newark counterpart had it wrong about New Jersey Communities United and eminent domain.

“We are not using eminent domain,” said Vauss on Thursday, Jan. 26, following his third annual State of the Township Address at Christian Pentecostal Church on Clinton Avenue. “We are employing traditional rem foreclosure,” Vauss said, referring to the legal name for a court foreclosure against a property. ”As it relates to helping struggling homeowners, we are working with an outside provider to provide counseling to our residents who need assistance.”

One of those providers Vauss mentioned is Boston Community Capital, which funds and runs the Stabilizing Urban Neighborhoods program. Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders President Britnee Timberlake, who also works for a nonprofit organization that helps economically and socially at-risk families, has recently been taking representatives from Boston Community Capital and Stabilizing Urban Neighborhoods around to offer their services locally in East Orange and Irvington.

In fact, one of Boston Community Capital’s representatives who accompanied Timberlake to the East Orange City Council’s regular meeting on Monday, Sept. 26, was also one of the panelists at the Women In Support of the Million Man March forum on Wednesday, Jan. 25. And Beckles said he was glad they were there.

“This crisis has a psychological effect on us, the people that the predatory lenders chose to prey on,” said Beckles on Wednesday, Jan. 25. “They decided to come to our community and take the one thing we have — our homes — away from us. People are ashamed because of what they’re going through. I’m a vet. Most people are not in my particular situation. I live in Irvington, where 50 percent of the homes in town are vacant; 40 percent are going into foreclosure.”

Beckles said he, too, was facing foreclosure until receiving the assistance of the the Stabilizing Urban Neighborhoods program. According to Jessica Brooks, the Boston Community Capital representative who spoke at the East Orange City Council meeting on Monday, Sept. 26, the Stabilizing Urban Neighborhoods program allows the nonprofit community-based financial institution to purchase a property “at the current market value and we sell it back to the homeowner the same day, with a mortgage they can afford.”

Beckles said he hopes more Irvington homeowners will be eligible for the Stabilizing Urban Neighborhoods program.

“Nobody is looking after the store and we have someone coming into the neighborhood taking everything from us,” said Beckles. “It’s time that we start demanding something. It would be nice if the mayors of Hillside, Orange and Irvington were here, because we’re all going through the same problems.”

Although Baraka was the only mayor present at the Jan. 25 forum, Bey said Orange Mayor Dwayne Warren, East Orange Mayor Lester Taylor and Vauss have appeared at prior forums.

But Orange City Council President Donna K. Williams, who is also an active member of the People’s Organization for Progress grassroots social and economic justice advocacy group, was at the forum to represent Orange.

“I think this forum was a very good thing, because it tried to help people that are really in need,” said Williams on Wednesday, Jan. 25. “We need more forums and events like this that can help connect homeowners struggling to stay in their homes with the people and organizations that can help them. There are a lot of people in Orange that could benefit from attending a forum like this.”