About 70,000 property owners joined the ranks of Ohioans facing foreclosure last year. That figure was a slight improvement over 2011, but it represents more than four times as many annual new foreclosure filings as in the mid-1990s.
Even as our state’s economy and housing market continue to recover, albeit slowly, the foreclosure crisis is not over. Much more urgently remains to be done to help homeowners — often poor, elderly, or disabled — and their families cope with the risk of losing their homes.
According to Ohio Supreme Court data, there were 3,030 new foreclosure case filings in Lucas County in 2012 — a 6 percent drop from the previous year, but still the sixth-highest total among the state’s 88 counties (Cuyahoga County ranked first with 11,427 filings).
Also in metropolitan Toledo, Wood County had 594 new filings, 3 percent fewer than in 2011. Foreclosure filings decreased by a heartening 22 percent in Fulton County, to 173, but rose by 7 percent in Ottawa County, to 195.
Housing analysts link the foreclosure figures to a variety of troubles, notably loss of household income caused by unemployment, reduced work hours, or catastrophic illness. That’s not surprising, but the diagnosis of the ailment is less important now then prescriptions for preventing foreclosures.
Those prescriptions surely include more financial help for the nonprofit groups, in Toledo and across the state, that are on the front lines of the battle against foreclosure. These organizations participate effectively in mediation efforts aimed at keeping hard-pressed families threatened with foreclosure in their homes and off the streets, as well as consumer mortgage counseling intended to help prevent further foreclosures. Both approaches are essential.
But many of the groups say they lack the resources they need to keep up with the high demand for their services. Negotiating mortgage modifications with banks and other lenders can be tough, expensive, and time-consuming.
Housing advocates are properly calling on Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine to use part of the state’s $93 million in proceeds from the settlement last year of a national mortgage case against banks to provide financial aid to these groups. As they work on the next two-year state budget, lawmakers and Gov. John Kasich’s administration also should provide more, not less, money for counseling to prevent foreclosures, and for related efforts to relieve financial burdens on households that are at greatest risk of home foreclosures.
State and local prosecutors must continue to act aggressively against predatory home lending. They also need to crack down on the fraudsters who promise — but don’t deliver — foreclosure relief to desperate homeowners.
Foreclosures afflict not only families but also communities, generating abandoned houses, blighted neighborhoods, and greater homelessness. Preventing or limiting home foreclosures is in the interest of all Ohioans, but the people and groups who do this vital work need more and better tools to apply to it.
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