After months of watching the number of foreclosure filings continue to creep up - in some months by a staggering amount - the Lucas County Clerk of Courts office is hopeful it has finally begun to see a downward trend.
In line with national and regional numbers that say foreclosures are down, the county has, for the third month in a row, had fewer foreclosure filings this year than during the same time in 2008.
Although the office has handled 106 more cases this year than during the same time last year, Clerk of Courts Bernie Quilter said a slow downward spiral is emerging and it looks promising.
"We're starting to see a trend of cases going down right now," he said, noting the 102 fewer cases filed this month over last July.
Like most areas, northwest Ohio has been affected by a recession that has gripped the country. Among the casualties has been the local housing market.
In 2008, 4,093 Lucas County homes went into foreclosure - a number that made up more than 50 percent of all civil cases filed in the clerk's office.
In response to the heavy caseload, Lucas County Common Pleas Court judges hired a full-time magistrate to help mediate foreclosures. Of those cases referred, roughly two-thirds have been resolved by some agreement of the parties, Magistrate Mari Taoka said. The magistrate's office, however, has not yet had a drop in cases.
Andrew Neuhauser, an attorney at ABLE in Toledo, is not as optimistic that Lucas County is working its way out of a crisis. Instead, he said, most local foreclosures are tied to unemployment.
In the past few years, he said, most of the clients his agency helped were victims of high interest rates coming at the end of adjustable rate mortgages. More recent clients, however, are in need of help because they have either lost their jobs or are now at lower-paying ones.
Residents confronted with the possibility of a foreclosure are urged to call the United Way's resource center at 211 or the state's Save the Dream hot line at 888-404-4674.
Despite the decline in foreclosures, County Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak noted that 283 Lucas County families received foreclosure notices.
"Those are real families," she said, pledging that the county will continue to work hard to guide homeowners through the crisis.
"It's too early to feel that we're out of the woods, but we'll certainly take some good news on this front and hope that this will be a trend," she said.
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