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Published: Wednesday, 9/26/2007

Mortgage lenders reach out to owners in distress


Fearing that foreclosure was only one more missed payment away, Ernest Frye, Jr., took the first steps yesterday to get help with the mortgage on his South Toledo home.

After attending an event to offer advice to distressed owners, Mr. Frye, 57, was hopeful that information that he got about a Federal Housing Administration program could avert having the house fall into foreclosure.

"I am trying to be pre-emptive," explained Mr. Frye. He attended the state-sponsored Borrower Outreach Day at Owens Community College in Perrysburg Township.

People having trouble paying their mortgages or in danger of foreclosure got the chance to meet with credit counselors and housing specialists and go face to face with lenders privately to discuss their financial problems.

The foreclosure rate in Ohio has ranked among the top five states for several months and bounced above 51 percent in the first six months this year compared to last year for metro Toledo, a national report shows.

Lucas County Treasurer Wade Kapszukiewicz said, "There is no secret in what a crisis we face in this country as the housing bubble continues to burst. People are hurting. People are scared. There is nothing more frightening than the notion of losing your home."

Half of foreclosures can be prevented by having financially strapped borrowers reaching out to lenders to work on the problems, Mr. Kapszukiewicz said.

The subprime mortgage market and holders of mortgages with adjustable rates that are about to increase are among the reasons lenders are repossessing houses, said Douglas Burcham, a loan officer with Flagstar Bank, one of the lenders that participated in the program.

"Unfortunately, for the people in foreclosure, it is hard to get them out of that situation," he said.

Lucas County Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak said 823 homes were sold in the county last month, but 430 houses went into foreclosure.

The program was the third Borrower Outreach Day. In Nelsonville in southeast Ohio, about 25 participants sought information. About 350 people went to the program in Columbus.

Douglas Shelby, of the U.S. Department of Housing, which was among the sponsors, said it is hard to tell how many homes could have been saved if the outreach had started sooner.

"I think, at least on the federal government side, we were slow in moving to address the problem," he said.

Contact Mark Reiter at: markreiter@theblade.com or 419-724-6096.

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