Yes! Weekly: Guilford foreclosures accelerate, but new filings are down

By Eric Ginsburg, Yes! Weekly

Marche Clarke, with the Guilford County Homeownership Center spoke at a recent anti-foreclosure rally outside of Bank of America. (photos by Eric Ginsburg)

Marche Clarke, with the Guilford County Homeownership Center spoke at a recent anti-foreclosure rally outside of Bank of America. (photos by Eric Ginsburg)

Residential foreclosures increased dramatically in North Carolina from September to October, with more filings in Guilford County than any other county in the state. Foreclosure rates went up nationwide by 7 percent, while foreclosure rates in North Carolina rose by 35 percent from September to October according to RealtyTrac, a real estate group that released the report.

Yet the total number of new foreclosure filings — residential and commercial listings that may not ultimately result in foreclosure — fell for the second straight month statewide.

“We’re still on the long term trend of higher foreclosure rates than normal,” said Peter Skillern, director of the Community Reinvestment Association of North Carolina. “There’s a sense that there is a backlog of foreclosures that banks are working through.”

In Guilford County, the number of new filings fell from 279 to 238, the lowest number this year. On average, Guilford County has seen 296 new filings every month, though the last four months have been below that average. In 2010, the average monthly filings were 335, and while 2009 and 2008 were lower, so far 2011 is averaging fewer filings.

Forsyth County’s new filings increased for the third straight month, including 260 in October, making it the most number of new foreclosure filings all year. For whatever reason, October has been marked by the highest number of new filings in Forsyth and Guilford Counties in 2007, 2008 and 2010. The same is true on a statewide level.

For the more than a decade, the number of new filings rose in Forsyth County every year, though it appears 2011 may break that trend. Guilford County, with significantly higher numbers, has a less consistent streak. Guilford’s worst year, 2010, saw 4,019 new foreclosure filings, while there were only 2,395 in Forsyth that year.

Foreclosure filings don’t always result in homeowners losing their property, however. The fortunate ones are able to modify their mortgage payments.

A record of new filings and foreclosure sales for the county is kept at the special proceedings office at the Guilford County Courthouse in downtown Greensboro, and a sampling of the most recent filings indicates that people experiencing varying levels of foreclosure are spread throughout Greensboro. One is near the end of East Market Street, two by Adams Farm in southwest Greensboro, another south of Glenwood off of Freeman Mill Road, two far north off North O’Henry Boulevard, one near the airport and a number south of Interstate 40.

The spread isn’t surprising given the national statistic that poverty in the suburbs has increased by five million, or 53 percent, since 2000, with Greensboro as one of the epicenters of the crisis.

The variety doesn’t surprise Marche Clarke either. Clarke, a certified housing counselor and the director of development for the Guilford County Homeownership Center, handles approximately 150 active cases, as do two other people in the office.

“Initially and even now the highest rate of foreclosure filings were in the 27405 and 27406 area codes [in northeast Greensboro],” Clarke said. “Now I would say that they’re all over. We thought we’d be working our way out of this by now.”

Recently, Clarke and her partners have seen an influx of cases from McLeansville, Pleasant Garden and the suburbs, as well as outlying Guilford County.

The center began helping homeowners facing foreclosure in 2008 after people began calling and asking for help. Now the center, along with the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Greensboro and the Greensboro Housing Coalition, has more work than anticipated.

“All of us are overwhelmed,” Clarke said. “I think every agency in the state and country is, too. We haven’t seen that it’s slowed down. ” Clarke estimated that about 85 percent of the homeowners she works with are facing foreclosure because of job loss, illness, disability or another unexpected financial burden. People approach the center and similar organizations for help at various stages of foreclosure, but the goal is usually to get the homeowner a modification they can afford.

The center also has a “hardest hit fund,” in which it loans up to $24,000 with no interest. And, if homeowners then stay in their property for 10 years and don’t move or sell, the loan is forgiven. Since the fund began in March, the center has built 50 to 60 active files. The funds come from the US Treasury and are administered by the Carolina Finance Housing Agency.

Some banks, Clarke said, are easier to deal with than others.

The center has established relationships and people to contact with Bank of America, Chase and Wells Fargo, but can’t get through to anyone at CitiMortgage. HSBC has also been impossible to work with, she said, while it seems that people have an easier time receiving modifications from RBC, BB&T and SunTrust, amongst others.

Clarke and Skillern both attended a rally on Nov. 11 held by Occupy Greensboro outside Bank of America’s headquarters on Green Valley Road. Skillern said the location made sense, because approximately 16,000 homes in North Carolina and 1.2 million nationally are in default to Bank of America, more than any other bank in the nation.

“As the nation’s largest bank they played a lead role in creating this situation, and they need to play a lead role in fixing it,” said Skillern, who drove from Durham to participate.

The Community Reinvestment Association of North Carolina, Skillern’s advocacy group for fair bank lending, has demonstrated outside Bank of America’s last three shareholder meetings, and he has testified before Congress.

A flyer handed out at the march, which was attended by 55 people, said the protesters are demanding a moratorium on foreclosures “to allow time to fully investigate fraudulent banking practices” such as the robo-signing practices uncovered by people such as Guilford County Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen.

The “Linda Green” document cases uncovered by Thigpen and others nationwide — in which the same name was signed for different banks in different parts of the country in different handwriting at the same time — call into question the legitimacy of the chain of title for homes and whether banks have the legal right to foreclose.

As part of the protest, demonstrators hung fake chains with padlocks over the Bank of America sign, chanting, “Foreclose the banks!” and “Whose house? Our house!” The office appeared to be closed for Veteran’s Day.