WASHINGTON — Maine’s foreclosure rate is low compared with other states. But homeowners facing foreclosure still need help, state officials say.
Of the 435 congressional districts nationally, Maine’s 1st and 2nd Districts rank 402nd and 388th, respectively, on the list of worst rates of foreclosures per household, according to www.hotpads.com, a real estate search engine.
“We are not experiencing the same rate of foreclosure in Maine that other states are experiencing; that is true,” said Will Lund, superintendent of Maine’s Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection. “I think it is a combination of more conservative borrowing and more conservative lending than in other states. Maine consumers tend to be a little bit more traditional in terms of the product they are interested in.”
According to an online marketplace for foreclosure properties — RealtyTrac, which Lund called “the best source of information” on foreclosures — 303,879 U.S. properties filed for foreclosures in August, a 12 percent increase from the previous month and a 27 percent increase from August 2007.
In Maine, with one in every 2,966 households filing for foreclosure, the foreclosure rate declined in August. Its foreclosure rate ranked 43rd among the 50 states. In all, 233 properties filed for foreclosure in August, a 9 percent decrease from July, but still 61 percent above the level reported for August 2007.
Dan Simpson, public information manager for the Maine State Housing Authority, said: “We have a low foreclosure rate on our own home loans because, while our typical borrowers have below-average incomes, we have not made subprime loans and we work with our borrowers to try and avoid foreclosure.”
A study based on 2008 first-quarter numbers by Maine’s Bureau of Financial Institutions also found “foreclosure numbers remain relatively small and do not pose a threat to the stability of state-chartered banks and credit unions.”
The second-quarter figures probably will come out by the end of this month, according to Lloyd P. LaFountain III, superintendent at the Maine Bureau of Financial Institutions.
So far, he said, the national financial crisis hasn’t affected credit unions, and loans are still available.
“However, that is not to say that the situation is not serious in Maine for those people who are affected,” Lund said. “For consumers who are facing foreclosure, it’s not much consolation for them that the overall rate of foreclosure is not as great in Maine as it is in other states.”
According to a national delinquency survey by the Mortgage Bankers Association, there were 4,912 loans in the foreclosure process in Maine out of 143,468 loans as of the second quarter. Maine’s foreclosure inventory rate for all loans, 2.91 percent, is a little higher than the national average rate of 2.75 percent and significantly higher than Maine’s 2007 rate of 1.77 percent.
Simpson said that the state “also instituted a program at the start of this year called MaineHOPE [Home Ownership Protection against Unemployment] that provides our borrowers with four months’ worth of mortgage payments if they become unemployed through no fault of their own.”
On Sept. 26 and Oct. 1, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development announced two programs aimed at relieving the foreclosure problems.
The $3.92 billion neighborhood stabilization program allocated $19.6 million for Maine to assist local governments in acquiring and redeveloping foreclosed properties.
The HOPE program would help borrowers refinance into more affordable loans to prevent foreclosures.
“I think lenders are anxious to participate,” Lund said. “Lenders do not really benefit from foreclosures.” But in many states, he said, such programs are “only reaching less than 5 percent of all the eligible cases.”
“So although there’s been a lot of talk and although I would certainly encourage any program to do whatever it can,” Lund said, “the facts and figures may indicate that only a small percentage of consumers are actually being helped by the programs that are currently in place.”