Foreclosure Task Force Eyed In Salisbury

SALISBURY — Alarming foreclosure statistics have prompted the city of Salisbury to begin the process of developing a foreclosure task force.
Acting City Administrator Tom Stevenson briefed the City Council last week on the upward foreclosure trends that have been seen this year.
“According to the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development Office of Policy, Planning and Research, property foreclosure events for Wicomico County for 2013 have increased 463 percent, notices of mortgage loan default issued in Wicomico County for 2013 increased 382 percent, notices of foreclosure sales issued in Wicomico County for 2013 has increased 6,290 percent and that’s not a typo,” said Stevenson.
It’s not just Salisbury and the surrounding county that are troubled. Maryland currently features the third highest foreclosure rates in the country.
“It’s become clear to me that this is something the entire state is struggling with, that the problem doesn’t seem to be getting much better right now and may, in fact, be getting worse in certain parts of the state and Wicomico County may be included in that,” said Council President Jake Day.
Hoping to stem the bleeding, Salisbury wants to put together a task force of residents, Realtors, bankers and city-appointed representatives. The group will be examining the reasoning behind the foreclosures and working with community partners like Salisbury Neighborhood Housing Services (SNHS) to come up with solutions for helping families keep their homes.
Already, SNHS plays a pivotal role in combating foreclosures. Executive Director Cheryl Meadows told the council that her agency serves around 250 families per year across the lower shore. Of those 250 families, SNHS is usually able to assist about 115 in coming to a successful solution through foreclosure counseling. The group also rehabilitates foreclosed properties and brings them back to the market.
Even with their best efforts, Meadows admitted that the foreclosure issue can feel like a “revolving door” with two cases popping up for everyone that is resolved. A foreclosure task force could go a long way in supporting what SNHS is already doing, she added.
The council was unanimously eager to do something to reduce foreclosure rates. However, there was concern over the proposed number of bank representatives versus residents and realtors.
“Looking at the makeup, I was curious as to why it was so heavy with bankers, to be blunt,” said councilmember Laura Mitchell. “Three versus one for all of the others; I understand that it’s a key component but it might be a little skewed.”
While there might be the fear of bias, Meadows told Mitchell that, by and large, banks are committed to solving foreclosure problems in their communities, especially local banks.
“The local banks are very good to work with and they want to be part of the solution,” Meadows said.
But the council still felt more comfortable in balancing the task force further by removing one of the three bank industry spots and adding another seat for a city resident, bringing the currently proposed composition of the group to one Realtor, two bankers, two citizens, one council appointed position and one member of the city staff.
The council agreed unanimously to bring the matter to the next legislative session for a vote.