Scramble for solutions as foreclosures rise at record speed

Amid doubts about government efforts, Congress was expected to vote on reserving $50 billion in TARP funds to help with home losses.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Foreclosures jumped a record 80 percent last year, according to a new report by consulting firm RealtyTrac. The rise comes despite state and federal programs designed to stem the tide of home losses.

This week, Congress was expected to again intensify its efforts to address the issue, this time by voting on a bill requiring at least $50 billion of the Troubled Asset Relief Program's remaining $350 billion to be used to prevent foreclosures.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) also announced this week the launch of a public service campaign designed to help individuals at risk of losing their homes.

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Called "Keep Your Home, Know Your Loan," the print, television, and radio campaign will air in six cities: New York, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami, and Phoenix. It urges homeowners who are behind on their mortgage payments, or whose mortgage may soon reset to a higher interest rate, to call 877-HUD-1515 to contact a HUD-approved housing counselor.

"We want people to pick up the phone and call a HUD counselor before they reach a point of no return," said HUD secretary Steve Preston as he launched the campaign at a news conference on Wednesday. "It expands your options and gets you time to make a good decision."

HUD also began awarding some of the $4 billion Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds that Congress allocated four months ago to help neighborhoods that were hit hard by large increases in foreclosures.

New York City was awarded $24 million to help it buy and renovate foreclosed homes in 13 neighborhoods around the city.

"We've worked hard over the past seven years to build strong neighborhoods and we can't and we won't let the current mortgage crisis destabilize our communities or threaten our quality of life," New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at the news conference. "The $24 million that we're receiving ... will help us keep New York an attractive place where middle-class families and families of all incomes want to live."

The city has already bought four abandoned homes. It plans on spending a total of $62 million dollars on the project by leveraging private funds in addition to the federal grant to rehabilitate and resell as many as 115 buildings that could house 250 to 300 families.

More than 50,000 homes in New York faced a foreclosure filing in 2008, according to the RealtyTrac report. Nationwide more than 2.3 million homes received a foreclosure filing. That amounts to about one in every 54 homes.

In a statement released with the report, James Saccacio, the chief executive officer of RealtyTrac, said the various state and federal efforts to prevent foreclosures have so far not had as much success as originally hoped.

"Clearly the foreclosure prevention programs implemented to date have not had any real success in slowing down this foreclosure tsunami," he said.

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