During 2006, the United States saw a considerable upswing in the number of new mortgage defaults and foreclosure filings. By 2007, that upswing had become a tidal wave. Today, national homeownership rates are falling, while more than a million American families have already lost their homes to foreclosure. Across the country, boarded houses are appearing on once stable blocks. Some of the hardest hit communities are in older industrial cities, particularly Midwestern cities such as Cleveland, Detroit, and Indianapolis.
Although most media attention has focused on the role of the federal government in stemming this crisis, states have the legal powers, financial resources, and political will to mitigate its impact. Some state governments have taken action, negotiating compacts with mortgage lenders, enacting state laws regulating mortgage lending, and creating so-called “rescue funds.” Governors such as Schwarzenegger in California, Strickland in Ohio, and Patrick in Massachusetts have taken the lead on this issue. State action so far, however, has just begun to address a still unfolding, multidimensional crisis. If the issue is to be addressed successfully and at least some of its damage mitigated, better designed, comprehensive strategies are needed.
This paper describes how state government can tackle both the immediate problems caused by the wave of mortgage foreclosures and prevent the same thing from happening again. After a short overview of the crisis and its effect on America’s towns and cities, the paper outlines options available to state government, and offers ten specific action steps, representing the most appropriate and potentially effective strategies available for coping with the varying dimensions of the problem.