A New Jersey nonprofit organization has taken a big step toward stabilizing its neighborhoods that have been hit by foreclosures.

Housing and Neighborhood Development Services, Inc. (HANDS), has purchased the mortgages of 47 vacant and troubled properties. It is believed to be the first bulk purchase of such mortgages by a local nonprofit group.

“We’ve secured the properties, and we’ve begun to clean them up,” said Patrick Morrissy, executive director of HANDS. “We have a plan to redevelop each property so they begin contributing to neighborhood stability rather than the opposite.”

Scattered throughout urban Essex County, the properties are associated with N.J. Affordable Homes, whose officials have been accused of a mortgage scam.

With foreclosures hitting communities across the country, Morrissy said he hopes that the local effort dubbed “Operation Neighborhood Recovery” will be a model for other communities.

“This is like hurricane season and a hundred Katrinas are pounding urban neighborhoods,” he said. “We need a response as big as the threat.”

Foreclosure filings (default notices, auction notices, and bank repossessions) were reported on 290,631 U.S. properties in February, an increase of nearly 6 percent from January, reported California-based RealtyTrac. About one in every 440 housing units in the country received a foreclosure filing in February. New Jersey ranked No. 27 among states in foreclosures.

HANDS raised $3.6 million in debt and equity from New Jersey Community Capital, Prudential Social Investment, NeighborWorks America, Local Initiatives Support Corp., and Enterprise Community Partners.

About 26 properties will be redeveloped and sold to first-time homeowners, another 14 or so will likely be involved in a “market-rate type” of transaction, and the rest will be land-banked for longer-term redevelopment opportunities, according to Wayne Meyer, housing director for HANDS.

A collaboration of nonprofits will be involved in redeveloping the properties. They include La Casa de Don Pedro, Unified Vailsburg Services Organization, Brand New Day, HomeCorp, Newark Housing Partners, and the Episcopal Diocese of Newark.