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Experts react to N.J. bill to expedite foreclosure of vacant homes

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State lawmakers have scored a partial victory in their bid to tackle New Jersey's foreclosure crisis, after Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill that would expedite the process for vacant and abandoned homes.

The law, which Christie signed Thursday, allows judges to enter foreclosure judgments for homes that they find are deserted, easing a costly and time-consuming process for banks. To help judges make their determination, the homes must meet at least two of 15 conditions identified in the legislation, such as overgrown or neglected vegetation and disconnected utility service.

The bill is one of two that the Legislature has passed with the hope of helping the state's housing market. The other, which would give funding to turn foreclosed houses into affordable housing, has been sent to Christie's desk but has not been signed.

The fate of the companion bill was still unclear today after Christie vetoed an earlier version of the bill in June. But the enactment of the first bill was a victory for a broad contingent that includes groups like bankers, builders, real estate agents and housing advocates.

"The homeowner who moves away early in the process basically hands the keys over or just tucks them in their pocket and walks away," said Josh Mann, a real estate attorney with Budd Larner. "And you still have to wait an incredible amount of time in order to foreclose the property."

Mann, who helped craft the legislation as special counsel to the New Jersey Builders Association, said that "especially when it's unoccupied, that's where you have the real deterioration of the property and the real problems for the neighborhood." He said those issues exist in both urban and affluent suburban areas.

Christie's office declined to comment on either foreclosure bill. Advocates, meanwhile, said it was hard to tell what course he would take after the earlier veto.

"We're hopeful, but obviously I can't read the governor's mind," Arnold Cohen, policy coordinator for the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey. "He hasn't been public about whatever issues are there."

Both Cohen and Mann said the bill that has been enacted will make a measurable impact, though the results would be far more significant if both measures become law.

"If you have both signed into law, it means our state is going to get out of the foreclosure crisis on an expedited basis," Mann said, noting that it will help clear inventory and create work for contractors.

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