Homes for keeps

September 29, 2006

A new effort to reduce foreclosures in Baltimore is a smart and forward-looking strategy to promote neighborhood stability and shore up the city's tax base. Although some neighborhoods have been harder hit than others, left unchecked, this trend could undermine revitalization efforts citywide.

Because several foreclosures in a neighborhood can lead to the decline of an entire area, finding ways to avoid them will also protect the city's efforts to reclaim and restore blighted neighborhoods and entice more people to move here.

The three-year initiative is the result of a partnership among the city, nonprofit groups, private foundations and lenders. This Baltimore Homeownership Preservation Coalition will provide city homeowners facing foreclosure with free legal advice, assistance negotiating with mortgage lenders and a host of other foreclosure counseling and prevention services. It will also help new and prospective homebuyers avoid bad real estate deals or mortgage loans they can't afford.

Residents in trouble can dial 311, the city's One Call Center, to be connected to a 24-hour counseling service and then referred to local agencies.

Baltimore residents are clearly in need of these services. Some 25,616 mortgage foreclosures were filed between January 2000 and April 2005, and 70 percent of them resulted in people losing their homes. While the rates have since declined, the ratio of properties in foreclosure to homeowners still remains high. In 2004, 30.6 foreclosures were filed for every 1,000 owner-occupied homes, almost twice the rate of Philadelphia, according to a new study done for the Goldseker Foundation, which supports local nonprofit organizations. The median time between home purchase and foreclosure was just three years.

The high foreclosure rate in the city is a worrisome anomaly in a state with the second-lowest foreclosure rate in the region, behind D.C., and the seventh-lowest rate nationally. In the last two years, foreclosures cost the city $1.8 billion in reduced property values, according to the Goldseker study. Beyond these statistics lie equally troubling human stories. Many of those losing their homes are black, single mothers with modest incomes who viewed buying a home as a ticket to the middle class and a way to pass on property to their children. The foreclosure prevention plan could help more poor people hold on to that dream.

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