With Utah facing the possibility of 40,000 foreclosures this year, speakers at an event designed to draw attention to the "crisis" said Wednesday that the effects of so many empty homes will ripple across neighborhoods and communities.
Billed as a rally at the state Capitol Rotunda, the event was more of a news conference that drew activists, community groups and a few officials who warned of the consequences of the wave of foreclosures hitting Utah. The state now ranks fourth in the nation in the percentage of its homes in some stage of the foreclosure process, according to RealtyTrac, a company that compiles real estate market statistics.
"Utah is on track for more than 40,000 foreclosure notices in 2011," said Marco Fields, founder of a homeowner advocacy group called TEEMS Utah and one of the event organizers.
Russ Wall, the mayor Taylorsville, said the values of surrounding homes decline as lawns deteriorate and houses attract crime after the owners abandon them.
"The general state of disrepair not only affects your property but all those along that street," he said.
A short sale, where a homeowner sells a property for less than their loan amount, also drives down home prices all around it, said Wall.
The event was to provide homeowners with information to help them avoid foreclosure and to start to build a consensus to push legislation to deal with the problem affecting one in 98 homes in Utah.
With one exception, the Legislature failed this past general session to approve bills dealing with foreclosure. Instead, the issues have been playing out in Utah courts.
Greg Sexton said he was forced to file a lawsuit to halt foreclosure of his Draper house after months of fruitless negotiations with Bank of America representatives to qualify for a federal short-sale program.
He cites phone call after phone call to the bank and a company hired by it in which false criteria were used to block his participation. He said the various entities were not communicating with each other and turnover is such that he constantly has to talk to new people unfamiliar with his case.
"They purposefully are booting me out of this program so they can foreclose on me," Sexton said.
Pamela Atkinson, an advocate for the homeless, said while she had no firm statistics to connect foreclosures to homelessness, there was a 59 percent increase in families at shelters.
Various families also are living together in houses and more are seeking help with food, she said.
"This is a new state of poverty," said Atkinson. "It is people who thought they had a safe mortgage and thought they had a safe housing situation."
Layton Mayor Steve Curtis choked up while describing his own experiences of losing his job, then having his home go into foreclosure despite ongoing negotiations to modify his loan.
But much of the talk at the event was over the loss of counseling services to prevent homeowners from going into foreclosure or to help those that do.
Federal funds for counselors was cut in recent budget negotiations between the White House and Republicans, said Linda Walker, of the Salt Lake Community Action Program homeownership center.
Walker said she laid off a counselor on Wednesday and that three others would be gone by June without the federal funds.
Fields said further events were being planned as the coalition also continued to try to build consensus on possible legislation.
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