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Philadelphia foreclosures may be suspended until HUD help arrives

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Housing advocates are pushing the embattled Philadelphia sheriff's office to suspend foreclosure sales through March, until funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development's new unemployment program is disbursed. On Jan. 7, President Judge Pamela Dembe of the Court of Common Pleas suspended the county foreclosure sales in January and February as the office came under investigation for financial mismanagement and demands from the homeowners' advocacy group Philadelphia Unemployment Project, grew louder. The sheriff's office currently works with a minimum staff, and one employee told HousingWire Friday that they are undergoing a transition to fix technical and computer problems. Sheriff sales are similar to normal foreclosure auctions; certain states around the country, however, require that a sheriff preside over the sale. HUD recently announced that its overdue $1 billion Emergency Homeowner Loan Program will be initiated sometime this spring. Through it, HUD will grant eligible and unemployed homeowners up to $50,000 in interest-free loans to go toward their mortgage payment. The state of Pennsylvania is set to receive $105 million through the program, the third most of any state. "With all the money the federal government is putting into the foreclosure crisis there is no reason why people should be losing their homes before the program is implemented," said James Tyson, a member of PUP's foreclosure crisis committee and a homeowner in default. Reports have circled that the Court of Common Pleas could be on the verge of taking over foreclosure sales at the office, but neither representatives the sheriff's department nor the court responded to requests for comment. Meanwhile continued delays in the foreclosure process are pushing an inevitable record year for filings in 2011, according to RealtyTrac. Robo-signers, moratoria and federal investigations brought the foreclosure process to a halt in New York and New Jersey late in 2010, according to Barclays Capital. Andrew Grossman, the visiting legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation, told the Senate Committee on the Judiciary this week that any recovery in the overall economy will be put on hold until the foreclosure issues are addressed. "Further hurdles to resolving defaulted mortgages will delay the bottoming out of the housing market, at great cost to the economy," Grossman said in testimony. Write to Jon Prior. Follow him on Twitter: @JonAPrior

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