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Lesniak angry at Christie veto of affordable housing bill

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After building support among Realtors, developers, banks and housing advocates in New Jersey for legislation to transform foreclosed homes into affordable housing, Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) was angered — but not at all surprised — when Gov. Chris Christie took a veto pen to his measure on Friday.

"Foreclosed homes are a huge drag on economic development and job growth. Everybody knows that, but not (Christie)," Lesniak said. "We put in a lot of effort and had a lot of support behind this, and he just dismissed it with a stroke of a pen. He's not coming up with any ideas. I'm gonna try to come up with something else, but it's not gonna matter if the governor doesn't care."

Lesniak said public-private partnerships are necessary to drive the state's economic recovery, but Christie's failure to recognize their importance — especially in the housing sector — is "the reason why we're far behind surrounding states in the nation in job growth."

"I'm angry that he's turning his back on neighborhoods. I'm angry that he's shortsighted," Lesniak said.

In his veto message, Christie said Lesniak's New Jersey Residential Foreclosure Transformation Act "would ladle on even more government spending," calling the proposal "little more than a thinly veiled attempt to circumvent the tough choices required to meet the constitutional obligation of passing a balanced budget."

"Some elected officials persist in the convenient thinking … that a spending bill or a tax increase passed outside the budget is not really taxing and spending as usual," Christie said in the veto message. "If the Legislature is serious in advancing these ideas, let the members openly and honestly debate the merits of their preferred spending against the competing proposals for using taxpayer dollars."

According to New Jersey Association of Realtors CEO Jarrod Grasso, foreclosed properties — which are now hitting New Jersey's residential real estate market at a record pace — "have been the albatross preventing true recovery in the state."

"It's a new era for all of us when it comes to foreclosed properties. We're hopeful that, though the governor doesn't support this bill, that it will be called back to the table," Grasso said. "Without this legislation, the market will have to work itself out. Once people feel more safe about their jobs, then these homes are going to start to move in this market. It really boils down to job security."

According to Adam M. Gordon, an attorney for the Cherry Hill-based Fair Share Housing Center advocacy group, having more foreclosed homes on the market "creates a degree of uncertainty for the residential construction industry, which is why there was so much support for this bill from the development and banking industries."

"Part of the problem is properties will sit in the foreclosure process or sit in banks' portfolios for months and years, and the legislation would've expedited that process," Gordon said. "We are doing worse than most states with our foreclosure rate, but other states have taken action on this problem. With this veto and the war on (the Coalition for Affordable Housing), there's a refusal by this administration to provide a clear path forward to get investment in the residential community and drive a recovery. All the groups supporting the bill are open to alternative ideas from the administration, but we just haven't seen any yet."

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