Miss. faces high number of delinquent mortgages

Published 5:55 pm Wednesday, June 11, 2008

At 60 years old, Bill Sones is a successful bank president and is chairman of the Mississippi Bankers Association. But he says each of his four married children, ages 27 to 32, owns a more expensive home than he does.

The desire of some young homeowners to have the biggest and best, sometimes beyond their pay scale, is just one of many factors in the nation’s housing crisis.

“They expect more and they expect it earlier,” Sones said Tuesday at a foreclosure summit of industry and government officials. “That in itself is problematic.”

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Sones, president of the Bank of Brookhaven, says his children have not run into problems with their mortgages, but thousands of people have.

Weak underwriting standards that led to sharp increases in subprime loans and a lack of consumer education also contribute to record foreclosures.

The potential estimated economic impact in Mississippi is nearly $235 million, compared to $309 million in Alabama, $497 million in Louisiana and $711 million in Tennessee, said Gary Beasley, regional manager for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s Division of Insurance and Research.

The estimates are based on losses in home values, decreases in neighboring property values and diminishing property taxes. Beasley stressed that the estimates are his and do not reflect the official position of the FDIC.

Estimated losses could exceed $2 billion in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia.

Mississippi ranks among the top in the number of residents with delinquent home loans with more than 13,000, or about 3 percent of the population, Beasley said. Still, it’s difficult to gauge how Mississippi will fare in the turbulent housing market.

Gov. Haley Barbour used his executive power to order a moratorium on forced foreclosures after Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005, so the state hasn’t seen as many foreclosures as other states. The moratorium expired this past fall and the meteoric rise in gas prices has some people concerned.

“Four dollar gasoline does wicked damage to lots of families,” Barbour said.

Mississippi has the lowest per-capita income in the country and has historically had a high rate of delinquent loans. Despite that, Barbour said, Mississippi has the highest rate of homeownership in the country: 74 percent.

“Families are working hard so they can own a home,” Barbour said. “They’re not out there in McMansions.”

The decline in housing prices has not been as dramatic as in other states because “we didn’t have the big run-up in prices in the last five years,” Beasley said.

Mississippi’s economy is “about as strong as it’s ever been” and doesn’t experience the economic “highs and lows” as the rest of the nation, Barbour said. That doesn’t mean there’s no reason for concern.

The governor said the most important thing is for struggling homeowners to seek help.

At least 50 percent of foreclosures occur without the homeowners even talking to their lenders about financial difficulties, said Donna Gambrell, director of the U.S. Treasury’s Community Development Financial Institutions Fund.

“Ask for help,” Barbour said. “Just go talk to your lender and put the cards on the table face up and you can probably work something out.”