Foreclosures surge in Baltimore, symbol of the US housing crash

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 August, 2013, 3:10am

Foreclosures are surging again in Baltimore, which became a symbol of the US housing crash when the city's desolate blocks of abandoned terrace homes served as a backdrop for the HBO TV series The Wire.

Maryland's biggest city saw foreclosures almost triple in July from a year earlier to 2,073, the biggest gain among the 20 largest US metropolitan areas, according to data released recently by RealtyTrac. Baltimore was one of five cities, including Miami and New York, that showed more properties getting default, auction and repossession notices, bucking a 32 per cent nationwide decline to 130,888.

More homes are being seized after banks broke the legal logjam of state legislation and court rulings that kept some lenders at bay after the housing boom went bust in 2008. Foreclosures stalled in 2010 when Maryland passed a law requiring banks to try alternatives to eviction.

"These are not new loans going bad," said Daren Blomquist, vice-president of RealtyTrac. "This second wave of foreclosure activity is the unintended consequence of more aggressive prevention efforts on the parts of some states during the housing crisis, which initially slowed down activity."

Nationwide, 71 per cent of loans in foreclosure were originated between 2004 and 2008, according to RealtyTrac.

Sombo Hilton, office manager for a non-profit group that promotes home ownership in Baltimore, lost her US$250,000 house to foreclosure earlier this month. She bought the property, located about 10 kilometres outside the city, with no down payment in 2008, she said. She was making US$33,000 a year working for Habitat for Humanity.

"With my income and my credit, I shouldn't have been able to buy the house," Hilton said. "I realise that now that I work for a housing organisation. If I knew what I know now, I would've never bought the house."

Baltimore was one of the cities hit hardest by the housing crisis and received US$5.8 million from the US government's Neighbourhood Stabilisation Programme, which directed US$7 billion to cities across the country to help communities that suffered from foreclosures and abandonment.

The city - home to money managers including Legg Mason and T. Rowe Price - also was among the first to accuse Wells Fargo in 2008 of discriminatory lending that targeted black and Hispanic homeowners, which was followed by lawsuits across the nation.

The bank reached an agreement with the city last year and separately set up a US$50 million fund for assistance in eight regions, including Baltimore, where the US alleged discrimination against minority borrowers had a significant impact.

The city's first wave of foreclosures started in May 2007 and by last month there had been more than 32,700 filings, RealtyTrac said.

Maryland had the country's second-highest foreclosure rate in July after Florida. Foreclosure filings in Baltimore jumped 182 per cent from a year earlier.