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Help for Homeowners Caught in 'Mortgage Crisis'

The most recent figures on mortgage defaults and foreclosures in Ohio are alarming. Last October there were 17,000 filings, up 136 percent from the year before. That's one foreclosure filing for every 290 Ohio households. But some homeowners are now finding solutions to their difficulties from the Columbus Housing Partnership.

Vicki Ballenger says she'd always dreamed of buying a place in the country for herself and her Quarter Horse.

"I had grown up in the country and was just excited about buying my first home," Ballenger says. "It was a lifelong dream of mine to buy a home in the country."

And in 2001 she did. Still single, she put $8,000 down on a $190,000 farm northeast of Sunbury. Two years later she met her husband Kenny. They have plenty of room for their horses, chickens, cats and dogs.

"This is Faith and Digit, they're both Labradors," Kenny Ballenger says. "The two of them play in the back part of the property. Over in the back we have about 7 and one-half acres electrically fenced in that the horses go roam around in. Beauty and Spud are their names."

But with the birth of the couple's first child, Vicki says the family budget got tight. She lost part of her income taking maternity leave.

"We for the most part live paycheck to paycheck. So when I was down for 12 weeks it really put a hurting on our finances and unfortunately the mortgage suffered," she says.

Vicki, who handled the family finances, says she can't say for sure how they fell so far behind. But three consecutive monthly payments, each $1,450, went unpaid. She does remember the mortgage company "hounding" her, as she puts it, demanding that she pay the total amount due.

Vicki finally told her husband.

"We were probably two months behind when she was kind of letting me in on it," Kenny says. "And when that happened, it was very stressful. Nobody wants to leave their home."

Some 80,000 Ohioans were either seriously delinquent or had foreclosures pending during the third quarter of 2007. That keeps Ohio at the top of America's mortgage crisis.

"2008 looks like it will continue to be tough throughout the year. I do hope that there's some leveling off of the problem; if not in '08, then early in '09."

Bill Faith is head of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio. He says the fallout from foreclosure goes far beyond the families who lose their homes.

"It's really devastating to the broader community," Faith says. "All of us have our home values hurt. Property tax collections are depressed; it costs the communities money to deal with vacant and abandoned properties. It has a huge spillover effect."

But Vicki Ballenger found help when she logged onto the internet. She came across the Columbus Housing Partnership, a non-profit agency founded in 1987 by the city, the Columbus Foundation and the Columbus Board of Realtors. When the Ballengers' mortgage holder would no longer speak to the couple, the Housing Partnership acted as an intermediary. Loretta King is an assistant director with CHP.

"Because of our relationships that we have developed with lenders over the years, especially during this foreclosure crisis, we were able to get to the loss mitigation department and talk the lingo to start a loss mitigation program for the Ballengers," King says.

With the partnership's assistance the Ballengers saved their home with a workout option that brought their mortgage current.

King says she thinks the magnitude of Ohio's mortgage crisis is persuading more lenders to work with borrowers who have fallen behind.

The Partnership's Paul Haggard says a homeowner should call for assistance as soon as he or she realizes there's a potential problem on the horizon.

"The minute you feel those bumps in the road, that's when you should be calling Columbus Housing Partnership," Haggard says. "The sooner you call, the sooner we can help you get back on track, whether by looking at your budget or by talking to your lender."

Last year the partnership helped more than 1,000 people from Franklin and surrounding counties negotiate with their lenders.