The problem of foreclosure has hit both nationwide and close to home. According to the Ohio Association of Realtors, the number of home sales in the state has decreased by 16.8 percent since last year. In the 10th Senate District alone, 10.4 percent fewer homes were bought and sold. These statistics, in part, stem from the recent spike in foreclosure court filings in Ohio. In fact, the Mortgage Bankers Association reported that by then end of 2007, Ohio had the nation’s highest number of loan foreclosures.
While foreclosed homes obviously can devastate the individuals and families who lived in them, they can also have a pro-found impact on entire communities. Vacant homes left uncared for are possible risks to public health and safety and are popular places for squatters to stay. All of this can potentially increase crime and decrease property values in the surrounding community, which makes the foreclosure problem seem like a downward spiral.
In an effort to reverse the current situation, the Ohio General Assembly and various state agencies have been working on legislation and programs that aim to protect Ohio homebuyers and homeowners and to help Ohioans rebound from foreclosure. For example, in September 2006, the Ohio Homebuyers’ Protection Act went into effect. This legislation mandated the education and licensing of mortgage brokers and lenders. It also made them liable in court for any deceptive acts or practices that would violate the Consumer Sales Practice Act. Moreover, it required that those licensed as mortgage brokers act in the best interests of their clients, thereby helping to protect consumers from predatory loans.
In addition, the state has recently announced its Save the Dream Foreclosure Prevention Public Awareness Campaign. This series of radio and television advertisements is designed to convey to homeowners the importance of taking action to prevent mortgage foreclosure. It urges homeowners to contact their mortgage lenders at the first sign they are having trouble making payments. The sooner the loan servicer knows about the circumstances, the easier it is to work out a resolution.
In Washington, the Bush Administra-tion and Congress are working on a plan to help some homeowners at risk of fore-closure by allowing them to refinance into a more affordable mortgage backed by public funds. The proposal would help borrowers who owe the bank more than their homes are worth primarily due to plummeting prices causing much of the nation’s housing crisis. Under the plan, the Federal Housing Administration lenders could forgive a portion of these loans by issuing smaller mortgages in exchange for some financial backing from the federal government.
Homeowners can also contact a housing counselor approved by the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development to get assistance working with their lending agency’s loan service officer. To locate an approved housing counselor, visit www.hud.gov or call the state’s foreclosure prevention hotline toll free at 1-800-404-4674. For more information about the Save the Dream campaign, go to www.savethedream.ohio.gov.
Senator Steve Austria serves the 10th District, which includes Madison County.