Collier foreclosures still a concern, some say

— Experts navigating through Collier County’s foreclosure crisis painted a picture Wednesday of a long road ahead with a few signs of relief.

“We’re looking at record foreclosures,” said Jeffrey Ahren, one of the founders of Collier County Foreclosure Task Force. “I don’t know that the number is going to decrease any time soon. We’re maybe not yet bottomed out.”

Ahren, speaking at the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, said halfway through this year the county was on track to reach 9,000 homes in foreclosure. But he’s hoping a recent month-to-month decline is a positive trend.

In July, the county saw a record 1,100 foreclosures, but the number dropped to 811 in August, Ahren said.

Even so, he was concerned about a possible second wave when adjustable rate mortgages reset in 2011 and 2012.

“We may actually see a little stabilization this year and 2010, but unless people get out of those mortgages ... I suspect that’ll be another shoe to drop,” he said.

The task force is trying to do something about that.

Programs like an upcoming workshop will introduce homeowners to free credit and foreclosure counseling, as well as tips for avoiding foreclosure rescue scams.

“We want to make sure that everyone knows where the safe resources are,” Ahren said.

For nearly two years, the task force has been working to help homeowners stay in their homes.

Accomplishing that goal, they found, was more challenging than they had anticipated as banks were less interested in lowering payments or approving home sales whose prices were lower than the amount owed, said task force co-founder Kathleen Passidomo.

She said, lately “they’re getting with the program,” including faster approval of short sales.

Still the task force’s mission to help people keep their homes has expanded to keeping people in their homes even if they are foreclosed on.

There is a widespread misunderstanding that homeowners must leave their homes shortly after the process begins, said attorney Patrick Neale.

In reality, he said, residents can stay in their homes until the process is complete and taken over by the bank, which can take as long as a year or more.

Keeping people in the homes helps the individuals and the community, something the task force called “leaving with dignity.”

Residents have time to save money and the community benefits by limiting the number of empty houses, which can attract crime, lower property values as houses become run-down.

Ahren said more than half of the county’s foreclosure cases are not completed because banks don’t want to take add property to its inventory.

The task force is also anticipating commercial properties to be the next big wave of foreclosures.

“This is not going to magically be over January 2010,” Neale said, adding commercial foreclosures will further decrease the tax base and leave more empty properties.

Sarah Hines, a special assistant for U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, was taking notes.

“I can’t help but hear the words ‘legislative fix,’” Hines said. She is unsure of the new senator’s stance on the issue, but hoped to convey the task force’s concerns. LeMieux took office in September, tapped to replace Sen. Mel Martinez.

Connect with Tara E. McLaughlin at www.naplesnews.com/staff/tara-mclaughlin/

© 2009 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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