County to be asked for foreclosure funding

March 13, 2009
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A nonprofit organization will ask Kent County for $50,000 to combat the rising tide of home foreclosures locally, which averages 10 such actions every day here.

Kim Spring, coordinator for Foreclosure Response, told commissioners last week that she would use those dollars to update foreclosure statistics and to form a countywide plan to alleviate the problem. She hopes to get the program started this summer.

“It’s time to look for systemic change,” she said. “We’re not going to do this on a piece-by-piece basis. We need to have a plan that is particular to Kent County.”

Spring, who started with the agency last July, said the most recent data that came from the Community Research Institute at Grand Valley State University tracked foreclosures through last June. She said a comprehensive plan couldn’t be created until the information was updated through the first quarter of this year.

Roughly 10,000 homeowners went through the foreclosure process from January 2004 through last June, with about half of those houses in the city of Grand Rapids. Spring said the best she has been able to do so far to help homeowners is to refer them to one of eight local agencies that are attempting to provide assistance, like Home Repair Services.

Spring said Home Repair Services counseled 81 homeowners last August and has done the same with nearly 200 more every month since then.

“We’re connecting residents with agencies that can help them, but that’s putting a Band-Aid on the problem,” she said.

Kent County and the city of Grand Rapids are receiving about $10 million from last summer’s housing recovery act that Congress passed to buy, rehab and possibly demolish vacant houses, and the city plans to add another $1 million to that total.

Spring said the Dyer-Ives and Grand Rapids Community foundations have leveraged an additional $2 million that can be used. She also said she has been meeting regularly with the public-relations personnel of eight local banks, but hasn’t met with the lenders’ decision makers yet. Spring added, though, she has been pleased with the banks’ response and is looking for more involvement on their part.

County Commissioner Brandon Dillon said the county and other municipalities have lost $54 million in property-tax revenue during the past two years, with $10 million of that total having disappeared just since last summer.

“I hope we can come up with a plan to save some of those dollars instead of relying on a miracle from the federal government,” he said.

Spring wasn’t aware that out-of-state or overseas buyers have flooded the county to buy foreclosed homes. But she did say that roughly 70 percent of the vacant houses that have been sold here were bought by “off-site” purchasers, possibly as rental properties.

Spring also said the plan that will be formed wouldn’t be able to rescue owners whose mortgages are under water, meaning they owe more on their homes than their houses are currently worth on the market.

“I don’t think we can address that problem,” she said, adding that predatory lending and sub-prime mortgages weren’t major foreclosure factors here.

“The majority of people losing their homes are due to a loss of income. They have lost their jobs or have high medical bills,” she said.

County Clerk Mary Hollinrake cautioned commissioners not to let the upcoming report on Sheriff’s sales lull them into thinking the foreclosure problem was going away. Because some lenders have issued temporary moratoriums on foreclosures, she said the next set of numbers will show a big decline in those actions.

“You’ll see my stats on Sheriff’s sales plummeting, but that will soar again after April,” she said.

County Commission Chairman Roger Morgan told Spring to officially apply for the $50,000. “We’d appreciate a formal request,” he said, “and we’ll send it on to the Finance Committee.”

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