With a rowhouse threatened by foreclosure as backdrop, Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin said yesterday he would work for passage of laws that would help homeowners stave off the loss of their homes and provide tax credits to first-time buyers in a market beset by a withering slump.
"When you look around here, you see houses that are vulnerable," Cardin said as he stood on a sidewalk in Baltimore's tidy Ednor Gardens, where several houses displayed "For Sale" signs. "This is a great neighborhood. People here in middle America are hurting."
After the Senate returns from its Easter recess, the Maryland Democrat said, its first piece of business will be a bill he co-sponsored that would allow bankruptcy judges to restructure the mortgages of homeowners who cannot meet their payments. The Foreclosure Prevention Act also would expand revenue bond authority to restructure subprime and adjustable-rate mortgages and promote counseling for homebuyers seeking mortgages.
At his news conference yesterday, Cardin also said that he planned to introduce the First-time Homebuyers' Tax Credit Act, which, for a limited time, would provide an income-tax credit for the purchase of a principal residence.
Cardin's Web site recounts that more than 2.2 million Americans who took out subprime mortgages between 1998 and 2006 are in danger of losing their homes in the next two or three years. The site quotes the National Realtors Association as saying that home sales have dropped for the sixth consecutive month and that home prices are down 4.6 percent from a year ago. Maryland, it says, experienced a 39 percent increase in foreclosures in the last quarter.
On Thursday, the Bush administration called on states to enact licensing standards for mortgage brokers. The standards would force lenders to be clearer with homebuyers about the payment terms they are entering into.
Cardin held the news conference outside a house on Elkader Road in Northeast Baltimore whose owners "owe more than it's worth" said Mark Simone, a real estate agent who represents the owners. "They're selling it for less than what they owe the bank," he added, illustrating a common scenario. The house is being offered for $210,000.
Mark Sissman, president of Healthy Neighborhoods, a nonprofit organization that works to strengthen undervalued areas of Baltimore, said that without federal action, "the resources we need won't be enough."
Sally Scott, co-chairwoman of the Baltimore Homeownership Preservation Coalition, said that a disproportionately large share of foreclosure filings come from predominantly black neighborhoods and in communities with homes selling for less than $100,000.
Scott noted estimates from Congress' Joint Economic Committee that Baltimore residents are losing about $122 million in property-related wealth as a result of foreclosures.
Anne Balcer Norton, director of Foreclosure Prevention Services at St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center, said her team had counseled about 2,000 families last year, a 200 percent increase from the previous year.
"This year," she said, "we're looking to work with 3,500 families facing foreclosure."
The New York Times contributed to this article.