Prince George's lawmakers want new fund to ease foreclosure crisis

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Local,Maryland,Ben Giles

Prince George's County lawmakers are proposing a new fund to help dig the county out of the foreclosure crisis, but real estate experts say efforts in Maryland have only delayed inevitable foreclosures and drawn out the county's recovery.

A foreclosure recovery fund proposed by Councilman Will Campos, D-Hyattsville, would be the county's first effort to use its own dollars to help bolster the struggling real estate market.

Legislation creating the fund doesn't specify how much money would be spent or the source of the funds, but Campos said a minimum investment of $10 million is realistically needed to accomplish the county's most basic goals of rehabilitating properties and moving foreclosed homes off the market.

Prince George's still leads the state in foreclosures -- 493 properties were foreclosed in the county in March, according to RealtyTrac, or one in every 666 houses. The county has had 3,138 foreclosures since the housing bubble collapsed in 2007.

But spending more money may not help the county's recovery, according to real estate experts.

Maryland's snail-paced foreclosure process has allowed homeowners to stay in their homes longer, providing temporary relief but ultimately making the situation worse by dragging it out, according to Daren Blomquist, spokesman for RealtyTrac, which tracks foreclosure listings.

"The time to foreclose has skyrocketed, so we believe a lot of this is just delaying rather than solving the problem," Blomquist said.

Prince George's homeowners often have been unable to afford their homes in the first place, according to John McClain, deputy director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University.

That is unlike Prince William County, which was hit hard at the beginning of the crash but had a relatively speedy recovery. Prince William homeowners caught up in the housing bubble were often investors who could walk away from a bad deal more easily, McClain said.

While the proposed fund won't fix all the county's foreclosure issues, it can make life better for some residents and neighborhoods hit with the blight of foreclosed and abandoned properties, Campos said.

And the fund could complement efforts by officials under County Executive Rushern Baker who are using the new CountyStat program to study better ways to target the county's spending in the housing market.

"There is a need for a better approach, and I think this is the better approach," Campos said. "It's not going to be a silver bullet, but it's certainly in my opinion a great beginning."

bgiles@washingtonexaminer.com

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Ben Giles

Staff Writer - Crime Beat
The Washington Examiner