New Jersey Governor Chris Christie acknowledged on Tuesday that a state-operated, but federally funded, foreclosure relief program has not been working "the way it's supposed to," leaving many distressed homeowners without much-needed help.
The Philadelphia Inquirer first reported last month that New Jersey's Homekeeper Program, which was launched in 2011 to alleviate the financial burden of certain underwater mortgages, had doled out hardly any of the $300 million in funds allocated by the federal government. Last week, the program's shortcomings became the subject of considerable scrutiny after WABC-TV's Jim Hoffer added his own voice to the fray, exchanging heated words with the governor during an afternoon press conference.
According to Hoffer, the Homekeeper Program had only allocated $4 million to distressed homeowners over more than a year of operation. A visibly annoyed Christie disputed that figure. The Inquirer put the amount dispensed at around $30 million, still "the lowest percentage of federal money available to the 18 "hardest-hit" states." Richard Constable, who oversees the program, now puts the number at $42 million.
Christie claimed during his exchange with Hoffer that the reason for the program's inaction was a national moratorium on housing foreclosures. On Tuesday, however, Christie acknowledged that, even accounting for the moratorium, more could have been done.
"Sometimes I know it's going to be shocking for everyone to hear, government doesn't always work the way it's supposed to," Christie said. He went on to tell reporters that he had spoken with Constable about ways to improve the program:
I said to Rich, 'What other factors other than the moratorium has contributed to us only giving out $41 million of the $300 million?' He said our criteria were too stringent under the last Commissioner, which caused more people to be rejected that should have been accepted.
Constable, for his part, has already taken steps to improve performance. According to NJ.com:
He has increased the size of the staff from six to 41, and plans to raise the number to 50 in the coming months. In addition, Constable said, the agency has reached out to faith-based organizations to raise awareness about the program and plans to broadcast public service announcements.