Is another round of home foreclosures on the horizon?

FINANCIAL/USA-HOUSINGIs another massive round of home foreclosures possible starting in 2010?

It just may happen, according to Thomas Shellabarger, a policy adviser for the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The reason can be traced back to 2005 and 2006, the peak years for home loans that offered low interest rates with little or no money down. Under the terms of such loans, interest rates usually reset automatically to higher levels after five years. That points to 2010 and beyond for potentially greater fallout in the real estate market as homeowners face higher mortgage payments they can no longer afford.

Defaults on the same kind of home loans in recent years led to the current depressed real estate market and were a key factor that led to the current economic recession.

This year alone, more than 1.4 million people have lost their homes through foreclosure and 6,600 more foreclosures occur daily, according to statistics compiled by the Center for Responsible Lending in Durham, N.C.

It’s a enough of a concern, Shellabarger told CNS, that federal officials are monitoring mortgage defaults closely, hoping to stave off the entry of another glut of homes into a still overstocked real estate market. Any significant growth in foreclosures would likely derail any hope of economic recovery in 2010 and probably beyond.

Federal legislation to keep people in their homes is being considered. Shellabarger identified one model that comes from Pennsylvania that has caught the eye of federal policymakers and economic advisers.

Under the 26-year-old Keystone State’s plan, a homeowner laid off from work can borrow money from the state to use for the monthly mortgage. The plan allows people to stay in their homes and resume mortgage payments when economic times are better.

Once a homeowner starts making mortgage payments again, the homeowner also pays off the state loan. The minimum payment is $25 a month.

Since its start in 1983, the program has been profitable for the state as well, with more than 43,000 Pennsylvanians paying back $26 million more than they’ve borrowed over the years.

CNS will keep watch on what transpires and the bishops’ role in the situation as well.

Keeping up those rewriting skills

Jose Orta hands out fans during a vigil at the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility in late June in Taylor, Texas. The former medium security prison converted for family detention in 2006, has been the subject of harsh criticism from attorneys, immigrant advocates and civil rights organizations. (CNS/Bahram Mark Sobhani)

Jose Orta hands out fans during a vigil at the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility in late June in Taylor, Texas. The former medium security prison converted for family detention in 2006, has been the subject of harsh criticism from attorneys, immigrant advocates and civil rights organizations. (CNS/Bahram Mark Sobhani)

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of spending a few weeks on a story, turning it in with the expectation that it will run “tomorrow,” then hearing on the radio the next morning that the entire premise of your story is about to be made irrelevant.

Is it good news that it hadn’t run yet, or bad news that you now have to rewrite the whole thing (and here)?

Do you feel disappointed that your story didn’t get out in time to explain the problem before an announcement is made about its resolution? Or do you sigh with relief that you don’t have to put out a “stop the presses, don’t use that story, a new version is coming ASAP” advisory?

After covering the U.S. bishops’ spring meeting in San Antonio in June, I stayed in Texas a few days for a couple of other reporting projects, including the chance to cover a rally focused on the Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy of detaining families in a former medium- security prison in the small town of  Taylor.

The  T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility had been on my “write about this” list since 2007, shortly after ICE began putting families there and reports came out about the conditions inside. Pax Christi, Catholic Charities organizations, and several men’s and women’s religious orders had long been among groups protesting the use of Hutto to detain families.

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, which frequently partners with various Catholic immigration organizations, had co-written a report that led to a lawsuit against ICE, resulting in a settlement which brought some significant changes, though problems remained. My immigration sources regularly pointed to Hutto as a situation in need of more public exposure.

Maria Elena Casetllanos holds a sign during a vigil at the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility in late June in Taylor, Texas. (CNS/Bahram Mark Sobhani)

Maria Elena Casetllanos holds a sign during a vigil at the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility in late June in Taylor, Texas. (CNS/Bahram Mark Sobhani)

So I was glad my Texas trip coincided with one of the regular protest events in Taylor. I wasn’t able to arrange a visit inside, but I made some good contacts, heard the issues aired and got a firsthand sense of what the detention center is like from the outside, as well as what the Taylor community is like.

When I got back to the CNS office in July, amid other assignments, I worked on explaining Hutto’s history and the issues it presents, relying on a stream of relevant reports (by a court-appointed monitor,  by the National Immigration Law Center and the New Orleans Workers Center for Racial Jusice) that came out one after another in July.  And I started trying to get background information and answers to questions about Hutto and ICE detention policy from various public affairs staffers at the Department of Homeland Security.

I wasn’t having much luck. I received a series of “we’re working on your questions. We’ll get back to you” responses. Finally, I let my contact know that I couldn’t wait any longer. I’d given them a couple of weeks already and the story was going to run with an “ICE didn’t respond” clause by midweek.

The story went to my editor, lacking ICE comment.

Clearly, I wasn’t the only reporter working on Hutto stories, though. The morning of Aug. 6, The New York Times reported on “leaked” information that ICE was that day going to announce the end of family detention at T. Don Hutto and a revamping of the entire immigrant detention system.

That was indeed what John Morton, assistant secretary for ICE, announced later that morning.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to go completely back to the drawing board and our clients didn’t have to rip a now-outdated story from their page layouts just before press time.

I’d still rather not have had to redo something I’d worked on for so long. But it is kind of refreshing to be able to simultaneously explain a problem and report that someone in charge has already announced a plan to fix it.

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