The foreclosure nightmare continues in New Jersey

The neighborhood's zombie has, at long last, made it through foreclosure and is on the market.

A quick tour of the house, which was vacant for nearly 30 months, revealed few surprises. When water and electricity have been turned off for more than two years at a property, you always assume the worst.

The good news is that the raccoon family living in the attic has moved.

The bad news is that no one has yet dared to open the refrigerator in the kitchen, perhaps waiting until the Ghostbusters have a free moment.

New Jersey has a lot of zombie homes. Perhaps that's not unusual for a state that seems to observe Halloween as a national holiday, preparing for more than two months, then celebrating in just two hours on Oct. 31.

The state's number of zombie foreclosures is among the nation's highest. The reason is simple:

It now takes an average of 1,262 days for a foreclosure to make it through New Jersey's congested legal system, the longest time in any state, according to Attom Data Solutions (formerly RealtyTrac).

In September, for example, one in every 691 properties in New Jersey was in foreclosure, even as the national number was one in every 1,600 homes and foreclosure activity was the lowest since 2005, nearly two years before the housing bust began.

In Atlantic City, the ratio was one in every 375 houses, Attom Data Solutions reported, a result of the decline of the casino industry and the effect it has had on other employment.

"There is a tripling effect," said Patricia Hasson, president and executive director of Clarifi, the financial-counseling and education nonprofit, which has begun counseling troubled Atlantic City borrowers.

"Casino employees lose jobs, they don't go out to eat, restaurants lay off employees," she said.

While most states are processing recent foreclosures, New Jersey is working on a backlog of many years, which continues to hamper full recovery and lowers property values in many municipalities.

So it stands to reason the state would resurrect its HomeKeeper program, started in 2011, with $115 million in new funding. It's much smarter to spend a little to keep someone in a home than to deal with even more foreclosures.

There are two programs, Hasson said.

One, HomeSaver, offers eligible homeowners up to $50,000 in financial assistance to help bring their household monthly payments to affordable levels through refinancing, recasting, or permanent modification of the first mortgage loan.

The other, HomeKeeper, offers eligible homeowners up to $48,000 in financial assistance to cover arrearages and/or monthly mortgage payments (including principal, interest, taxes and insurance) for up to 12 months.

HomeKeeper has broader requirements than HomeSaver and can now assist people who have medical hardships with their mortgage problems.

While HomeKeeper can help with mortgage payments for up to 12 months, HomeSaver can be applied toward the mortgage principal or the amount in arrears.

Both programs are administered through the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency and must be applied for through a credit-counseling agency, Hasson said.

"What you do is come to the counseling agency, and we put you through their model to see which program would best fit your needs," she said. "Then we work with you on the application" and help throughout the process.

Both are good programs, Hasson said.

To apply online, go to http://njhousing.gov/foreclosure/

aheavens@phillynews.com

215-854-2472@alheavens

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