Foreclosures down, but many burdened by housing costs


Although the number of residential mortgage foreclosure deeds filed statewide in 2013 totaled 1,468 – a 10.2 percent decrease from the previous year – the state’s economy continues to falter, according to the report released Friday by HousingWorks RI.

In its analysis, HousingWorks looks at U.S. Census data finding that in 2000, 28.1 percent of all Rhode Island homeowners with a mortgage were housing-cost burdened compared to 38 percent in 2012, representing a 35 percent increase. Nationally, housing-cost burdens for mortgaged homeowners grew 26.6 percent during that same time.

“It’s definitely good news,” Nicole Lagace, interim executive director of HousingWorks, said in an interview Friday of the decline in foreclosure deeds, “but we’re still concerned by the number of Rhode Islanders struggling with housing costs.”

Households are considered cost-burdened when homeowners spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing expenses. This includes mortgage costs as well as taxes, insurance and utilities. Lagace correlated the housing cost burden to the state’s “persistent high unemployment rate.”

“Until policy makers can address both our state’s unemployment rate and housing cost burdens, Rhode Island will continue to be vulnerable to the negative effects of residential foreclosures,” she said.

In Warwick, 0.93 percent of the mortgaged housing stock was foreclosed in 2013, which is higher than the state rate of 0.8 percent, according to the report.

Edward Tavares of the Warwick Tax Collector’s office said, “I’m not seeing as many foreclosures as I used to.” He is also seeing an increase in the number of accounts where banks are paying the taxes.

“There are more escrow accounts. The banks are stepping in and creating escrow accounts,” he said. He estimated the number of tax accounts paid by the banks has increased from about 28 percent to 35 to 40 percent.

He reasoned banks are more interested in retention of properties and working out a payment plan with the homeowner in an effort to avert the high cost of foreclosure.

Nonetheless, Tavares is seeing people struggling to make ends meet.

“I think the majority of people are under water,” he said, meaning that most people owe more on their mortgages than the houses could sell for. Chris Hannifan, executive director of Housing Network of Rhode Island, agrees that banks are looking to avert foreclosures.She also sees tough times for many Rhode Islanders. “We still get a lot of calls from people who have lost their jobs or have had their hours reduced,” she said. She said most families require two incomes to sustain a mortgage and housing costs. “We’re a low wage, high cost state. It’s part of the problem we have,” she said. “People don’t have [financial] cushions. We’re still seeing people have problems.” Lagace could not say where programs designed to avert foreclosures were responsible for the state’s overall decline in the filing of foreclosure deeds. She noted that the Hardest Hit Fund Rhode Island, which received $79 million from the U.S. Treasury in December 2010, ended in January 2013. More than 5,300 Rhode Islanders sought counseling and assistance, according to the fund website. More than 3,000 received assistance. Hannifan said the program was of great assistance, but now it is over.

The Quarterly Report on Foreclosures in RI is made possible with a grant from the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office as part of the National Mortgage Settlement, as well as support from Rhode Island Housing.


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