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Editorial: Beating back foreclosure

The 597 people who have lost property through foreclosure in Rowan County in 2011 might wish President Obama had acted sooner on the mortgage relief plan he announced Monday. But the program would have helped very few of them.
As relief efforts go, this one is conservative.
At issue is the Federal Housing Finance Agencyís mortgage assistance plan, designed to help borrowers with little or no equity in their homes, according to the Associated Press. The plan allows borrowers who meet certain criteria to refinance and take advantage of lower interest rates. The federal agency is expanding the program and extending it an additional 18 months, to the end of 2013.
Sounds good, but the president must not realize how high a bar a person has to clear to get the help. According to Lou Adkins, a housing counselor with the Salisbury Community Development Corp., applicants must have a job, be paying a high interest rate and not have missed a payment in six months. Plus they must have a Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae loan.
Might as well require them to be left-handed, green-eyed and over 6 feet tall. The pool of eligible borrowers will be limited. And the pool of banks willing to work with them may be even smaller.
ěMost of the people that we see are behind and donít have a job,î Adkins said Tuesday. ěThere are a few people that could benefit from this if the banks will refinance. We have not had good luck in the past with getting them to refinance.î
But there is good news.
Point One: Rowan County foreclosures are down slightly from last year, according to the most recent state statistics. Through September, the county had seen 717 foreclosures in 2010; this year that figure is 597, nearly a 17 percent drop. The same is true for Cabarrus and the state; foreclosures have slowed.
Point Two: The N.C. Foreclosure Prevention Fund is still helping a lot of people who have lost their jobs, according to Adkins. One of its programs offers zero-interest loans of up to $36,000 for up to 36 months ó your stimulus dollars at work.
ěIt really, really is a good loan for people that do qualify,î Adkins said. Applicants have to have had good credit for the six months before they were laid off.
The state fund also has a refinancing program for high-cost second mortgages.
In most cases, the Salisbury CDC can help people avoid foreclosure, but not always in the way they want, Adkins said. ěItís hard for people who are used to having everything to give up.î Rather than make their mortgage and utilities top priority, many people try to pay a little bit on every bill. But somethingís got to give. Housing counselors like Adkins help people figure out what that is.
Adkins sees people every day who have applied for dozens of jobs and are willing to drive anywhere, but they cannot find work ó or they take a cut in pay. The only real ěreliefî would be jobs that pay well. If the president and Congress can make progress on the jobs front, the foreclosure crisis would go away.

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