The number of Marylanders who either are behind in their mortgage payments or are losing their homes has been increasing and will probably get worse before it gets better, experts warn.
The latest figures available show that delinquent residential mortgages -- those 30 or more days past due -- in the state increased by nearly 25 percent, to 4.14 percent, in the April-June quarter, up from 3.32 percent in the same period of 1990, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.
Foreclosures rose by nearly 12 percent, from 0.51 percent to 0.57 percent in the same period.
"It's all part of what's happening on the East Coast," said Thomas M. Holloway, senior economist at the MBA.
"It's as bad as it's been in recent years."
Because mortgage delinquencies and foreclosures lag other economic indicators, Holloway said, he expects the third-quarter figures due out later this month to be worse.
"We don't foresee foreclosure and delinquency rates improving any time soon," he said.
Holloway said the current situation stems from a combination of three factors -- soft or falling home prices, rising unemployment and high consumer debt loads.
People who bought in the mid-'80s when housing prices peaked are the worse off, he said, because their mortgages may be greater than what they can sell their houses for now.
Those who bought houses with low down payments, either under private or government-insured programs, have little or no equity in their homes.
The highest delinquency rate is in Federal Housing Administration-insured mortgages, with 6.01 percent of FHA mortgages in Maryland overdue by 30 days or more in the second quarter, according to the Mortgage Bankers. That's a 28 percent jump over the year-ago quarter and nearly 36 percent more than the 1989 quarter. The delinquency rate for VA mortgages was 5.97 percent, up almost 25 percent, and 2.31 percent for conventional mortgages, also a nearly 25 percent increase.
Larry Hatcher, a spokesman for the Baltimore office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said that for fiscal 1991, which ended Sept. 31, 1,033 FHA mortgages were in default. That represents "a monster increase" over the 649 that were in default in the previous fiscal year.
Foreclosures on FHA mortgages in fiscal 1991 jumped almost 43 percent, from 282 to 403.
"That's a huge increase," Hatcher said.
The Baltimore HUD district includes all of Maryland except Prince George's and Montgomery counties.
Dealing with the human side of the statistics are counseling agencies, which have seen their work load shoot up. But, while more people are seeking help, the agencies can offer little more than help with budgeting or trying to work with the lender unless the homeowner has a FHA mortgage. The only other source of funds, the state's Home Mortgage Assistance Program, ran out of funds in mid-October.
Tom Jaudon, director of the city's Homeownership Institute,which is certified by HUD to do default and delinquency counseling, said his office has experienced an increasing number of calls from people anticipating loss of their jobs.
"You start seeing families 60 to 90 days after they're laid off," he said. With the latest layoffs, and those announced, Jaudon expects the load to increase.
"I think it's going to mushroom," he said. "It's something we haven't seen in 10 years.
Alan Gee, a counselor at the institute, said he has been getting about eight calls a day.
"There definitely has been a change in the kinds of folks making the calls," he said. "I've always gotten calls from people in work where layoffs are common, like construction. I get calls now from folks who've been on the job 19 years, never sought help before, and felt secure. But they've been living a couple of paychecks away from disaster."
The change is reflected in the mortgage payments, too, Gee said.
"It used to be payments around $450," he said. "Lately they've been in the $850 to $950 range."
For those with conventional or Veteran's Administration mortgages, he said, there's not much he can tell them. Often, he said, they don't have the option of selling the home because they have no equity. If they were to sell, they'd have nowhere to go.
Frank Fischer of St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center said the non-profit housing group has counseled 1,025 people with mortgage problems as of the end of October. That compares with 725 in 1990. And, Fischer, said, "we see people we think we can help. If you call on Wednesday and say your home's being auctioned on Friday, there's not much we can do. We get calls like that daily."
With mortgage payments in the city often running about $400, Fischer said, many families were able to keep up using their unemployment benefits.
But now, he says, "a lot of people are running out of jobless benefits."
And, because the recession has hit white-collar workers hard, Fischer said, St. Ambrose is seeing a lot more people with homes that cost from $90,000 to $100,000 with mortgage payments running between $900 to $1,000.
Hester Pack, a community resource specialist with the non-profit Community Assistance Network in Baltimore County, said the agency was seeing "a great increase. And the sad part is the state program ran out of money."
"I see things really getting worse," she said. Her agency has been getting a lot of people laid off from smaller companies as well as small numbers of workers laid off from large firms.
Many are able to get a forebearance agreement from their lendersin which they are allowed to suspend or reduce payments for a set period that they promise to make up by making 1 1/2 or 1 1/4 payments.
Those with little prospect of being able to resume payments within a relatively short period and also cannot pay apartment rent are filing bankruptcy to stave off foreclosure.
As drastic a step as it is, Pack said, "at least they have shelter overhead."