TROUBLED homeowners were offered a glimmer of hope last week when the Ohio House voted to impose a six-month moratorium on foreclosures. Whether that glimmer will grow or fade is up to the Senate, and specifically Republicans who control that body. Let's hope they do the right thing.
Home foreclosures across the state have jumped through the proverbial roof, on pace to eclipse last year's 85,000. In Lucas County, filings were up 20 percent over 2008 as of April 30 and at the current rate will top 5,000 by the end of the year.
The House bill would halt many foreclosures for six months to give recession-battered homeowners a chance to evaluate their situation and try to work out a solution with their lenders. The bill also impose a $750 fee on lenders for new filings to encourage them to work harder to find solutions short of foreclosure and to fund programs to prevent or mediate foreclosures.
The bill would require that owners continue to make at least half their mortgage each month during the moratorium, effectively weeding out those who do not want to pay or just don't have the means. And true to its goal of keeping families in homes rather than benefiting speculators, it excludes houses that already are vacant.
Republicans claim the bill interferes with the sanctity of contracts - amazingly taking the same tack as AIG did on executive bonuses - but that bugaboo won't fly here because no contracts would be broken. Instead, the bill imposes a timeout that can benefit lenders as much as owners. Banks don't want to own tens of thousands of houses, they're not equipped to cope with the current foreclosure numbers, and in many cases they can make more money keeping people in their homes than they can by holding foreclosure sales.
Only property speculators benefit from Republican obstinacy on this issue.
It's entirely possible that the Senate will put off addressing this issue until after its summer recess, delaying relief until it's too late to help thousands of Ohio families, most of whom did not buy houses they couldn't afford. We urge them not to take the coward's way out through delay.
Market forces will be there when the moratorium ends, the truly bad mortgages will still be foreclosed on, and there still will be plenty of houses at affordable prices for new buyers.
This is one of those times when lawmakers have to do the right thing, even though it may be at odds with their political philosophy. Give Ohio families breathing room and a fighting chance to keep their homes.