As America recovers from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, home owners are struggling to just keep roofs over their heads.
Unemployment, coupled with uncertainty, plagues Utah families as many struggle to stay in their homes. House foreclosures drastically change the landscape of community development and, most importantly, the well-being of children.
Utah ranks fifth in the nation in home foreclosures with 1 in 419 housing units receiving foreclosure filings, according to RealtyTrac. Nevada, Florida and Arizona top the list with Nevada having the highest per capita ratio of 1 in 300, which is more than half the national ratio of 1 in 698 as of April 2012.
Republican Majority Speaker of the Utah House of Representatives, Rebecca D. Lockhart, said much of the reason for the negative trend originates from Washington, D.C.
“Most of what’s happening is coming from regulators and from the federal level,” Lockhart said. “There’s not a lot that we as a state (legislature) can do to address that issue.”
The federal government is charged with monitoring and regulating banks and financial lenders.
“We can provide a good tax policy,” Lockhart said when asked how state government can manage the high foreclosure rates in Utah, “(and by) keeping unemployment low to maintain a good environment, so that people aren’t losing their jobs, and therefore, being forced into foreclosure.”
When a house enters into foreclosure, general property up-keep stops because banks take over ownership. This could mean that neighborhoods with a high volume of foreclosed homes could become run-down, possibly preventing potential home buyers from buying in that area.
Provo City’s Redevelopment Agency targets these types of neighborhoods to revitalize a community’s visual appeal and make the area more competitive in the housing market.
“A neighborhood starts to show signs of significant disinvestment as soon as you have a high level of foreclosures,” Julie Beck, RDA neighborhood development specialist, said.
RDA offers programs to renovate house exteriors so when potential home buyers drive down the street, they will be more likely to purchase a home in a particular area. Beck says physical appearances matter.
“We’re trying to develop social capital as well as the physical capital,” Beck said. “We want every neighborhood in Provo to be competitive for home owners and renters.”
She said RDA programs have been used for a few foreclosed properties, but in past years she has not seen any foreclosures at all.
NeighborWorks, a federally funded, non-profit organization with offices in Provo, helps Utahns manage the challenges of going through and preventing displacement of families as they navigate through the financial and emotional hardships associated with the foreclosure process.
The impacts of a foreclosure are far-reaching and can affect an entire family.
“First of all, you have people that are being displaced, children that are being displaced,” said Diane Heslington, housing coordinator for NeighborWorks. “You have a lot of children who are affected in the education realm. People don’t know where to go. They have to get sub-standard housing.”
The main objective of the NeighborWorks organization is to help home owners keep their homes by negotiating with lenders to lower monthly mortgage payments and remove the uncertainty of future complications. Many simply need assistance in completing refinance applications with their lender. Deadlines, dates and documents are just some of the things that can add stress to those in a foreclosure situation.
“The parents are stressed. They’re frustrated, maybe angry,” Hesslington said, “When you get a lot of people, a big group of people, that are feeling that way, it definitely affects the community.”
Hesslington said there are a number of reasons people get behind on their mortgages: the economy has affected their business or their employment income, or a two-income family has a primary provider become ill.
“It’s not hopeless,” Hesslington said. “There is hope.”