US Epidemic Foreclosures may turn small US Cities into Ghost Towns
Certainly a Unitied States Epidemic and a distressing situation where Homeowners living far beyond their means with easy credit in homeownership face foreclosures when mortgage rates start to creep up. Mayors fearing blocks of homes and neighbourhoods may resort to criminal ghettos.
As Canadian Economists state when the US Sneezes Canada catches the Cold. Hopefully this scenario will not play in Canada and Vancouver where Real Estate Hype and No or Little Money down may put BC homeowners already on a strict budget in a similar situation if interests here suddenly start to creep up.
It has been said gas may rise to $1.50 a litre in British Columbia which could spell a Death Knell to Homeowners as commuters from outlying areas who come to the city to work.
TRENTON, N.J. -- Mayor Douglas Palmer, meeting with visitors at city hall, points to a large map peppered with dark dots. Each one represents a home or group of homes on the verge of foreclosure, and there are dozens all over the city.
The dots represent only those properties that the sheriff's department of surrounding Mercer County has identified as being at risk. Many more they don't even know about, Palmer said.
"Some people are even afraid to talk about it," he said of homeowners facing skyrocketing mortgage payments. "Half of them don't even call their lender when they run into problems, so they try to fly under the radar screen, which is the worst thing you can do."
Trenton, N.J., finds itself turning into a town riddled with shuttered homes and overgrown grass as homeowners lose their property. The city's mayor is looking for local solutions, complaining that federal response has been 'anemic.
Trenton, N.J., finds itself turning into a town riddled with shuttered homes and overgrown grass as homeowners lose their property. The city's mayor is looking for local solutions, complaining that federal response has been 'anemic.'
The challenge, said Palmer, is to prevent more homes from ending up as specks on the map.
The site of a pivotal battle in the American Revolutionary War, this port city more recently has struggled with drugs, violent crime, joblessness and other urban woes.
The latest crisis threatens to derail years of revitalization under Palmer, a four-term incumbent and the first black mayor in a predominantly black city of 85,000 people.
Like many other U.S. cities, it has seen foreclosures surge as people who bought homes in a real estate frenzy in the last few years face mortgage payments that have been adjusted to higher rates they cannot afford.
More than 600 properties went into foreclosure or came under threat of imminent foreclosure last year, up from 421 in 2006, according to the mayor's office, collating data from a number of sources. Those numbers are set to grow this year.
It is not just Trenton that Palmer is concerned about. Foreclosure has become a top priority for the U.S. Conference of Mayors, of which he is president and which is holding its winter meeting in Washington Jan. 23-25.
Palmer and other mayors say a mortgage relief plan brokered by President George W. Bush's administration does not help the many people who are already well into the process of losing their homes.
"The federal government response has been anemic," said Mayor John DeStefano of New Haven, Connecticut, where foreclosures rose 80 per cent in 2007.
"Mayors are talking to each other about this," DeStefano said. "No one else is going to help these homeowners."
Thomas Cochran, executive director of the mayors' group, said foreclosures could become a defining issue for urban leaders, like the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, which cities were forced to tackle early when they saw insufficient federal response.
In Trenton, Palmer has focused for years on creating affordable housing for middle-income people, including a collection of attractive row houses in a once-downtrodden area known as the Battle Monument district.
The mayor fears that even neighbourhoods like this one, where mortgages are mostly strong, will suffer as foreclosures rise, homes are shuttered, crime festers and property values fall. Police have reported a rise in copper pipe thefts around the city, for example, as vandals strip unoccupied homes, Palmer said.
"This cuts across every area of our economy, of the services we'll have to provide," Palmer said. When homes are boarded up, neighbours complain of blight such as piles of trash and overgrown grass, he said. "Who's going to cut it? The city will have to."
As mayors confront the problem, some are aiming squarely at mortgage companies. The city of Baltimore has sued Wells Fargo & Co (WFC.N), accusing the lender of preying on minorities in its lending practices. The company denies the allegations.
Elsewhere, cities such as Cleveland and Buffalo, New York, are trying to hold lenders responsible for the maintenance of homes in foreclosure. Cleveland has sued companies including Wells Fargo and Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. (MER.N) seeking to recover hundreds of millions of dollars for lost property tax revenue and the clean-up of abandoned houses.
"For some cities, this is going to be a crisis," said John Vogel, a professor at Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business, who studies real estate. A city such as New York "is doing so well on the commercial side and revenue collection, they will be able to deal with this pretty comfortably, whereas a city like Trenton does not have the same sort of resource base."
Mayor Palmer plans to meet in Trenton on Jan. 14 with representatives of major mortgage lenders and community and faith-based organizations in an effort to help city homeowners on the verge of losing their homes.
He hopes there are local solutions that other cities could adopt. One idea is for community development organizations to buy homes in foreclosure and lease them to the former owners while helping them prepare to repurchase them, something already being done on a small scale in his area.
"It's going to require a lot of creativity, but the most important thing is the mayors in the country and myself have the will to do this," Palmer said.