Editorial: Foreclosures surge in N.C.

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 16, 2007

After recording a slight dip in previous years, the number of home foreclosure filings in North Carolina spiked in 2006, according to state figures. That’s a somber reminder of the challenge facing affordable-housing advocates in Rowan County and elsewhere who are trying to help more low- and moderate-income residents obtain — and hold on to — their piece of the American dream.

Housing and loan experts say there are several factors behind the foreclosure trend, including buyers who take on more debt than they can handle, especially those with blemished credit records who are enticed by subprime loans that carry high and adjustable-rate mortgages. First-time buyers who may initially be able to afford their mortgage payments also can begin to flounder if they accumulate mounds of other debt, especially through credit cards. Obviously, job losses can also bring on financial crisis, as well.

Whatever the factors driving the surge, it’s affecting areas across the state, and it reflects a continuation of patterns the Post documented locally in a 2005 series examining foreclosures in Rowan and Cabarrus counties. That series found that foreclosures in those two counties increased 375 percent between 1998 and 2004. While the shutdown of Pillowtex and other manufacturing losses accounted for some of the foreclosures, many others stemmed from buyers who had fallen victim to rising loan payments that locked them into higher housing expenses than they could afford.

According to data cited recently in the Charlotte Observer, Mecklenburg County had the state’s highest foreclosure rate in 2006, with 35 filings per each 1,000 homeowners. Cabarrus County ranks 12th among N.C. counties, with 23 filings per 1,000 homeowners and Iredell is 14th, with 21 filings per 1,000 homeowners. Rowan ranks 28th, with 19 filings per each 1,000 homeowners in 2006. As it turns out, that ratio coincides with the state average, and it represents a dip in the foreclosure surge we were experiencing only a couple of years ago.

Reducing the foreclosure rate involves better consumer education so that buyers know the true debt burden that lies ahead. It also involves more stringent legislation to guard against outright deception, which the state legislature has promised to explore this session. It also requires support for local programs such as the Salisbury Community Development Corp. and the HOME investment partnership program that counsel consumers on home loans and help make affordable home and low-interest loans more widely available. Last year, the county signaled its concern about affordable housing with a $25,000 grant to help bolster Prosperity Unlimited, a non-profit housing development organization that serves low-income residents in East Spencer.

Foreclosures are a devastating financial blow for individuals. They also can disrupt communities and hasten the decline of neighborhoods. The foreclosure trend in North Carolina shows greater efforts are needed at all levels to help buyers find homes they can afford and manage their debts more wisely.