SALT LAKE CITY — Utah is fourth in the nation in home foreclosures, and it's mostly the mortgage industry's fault.
That was the message voiced by politicians and activists Wednesday at a rally on Capitol Hill organized by the Utah Foreclosure Crisis Coalition.
"They are not perpetrators," said Sen. Ben McAdams, D-Salt Lake, of the thousands of Utah homeowners who have recently gone through foreclosure. "They are victims."
A report recently released by Irvine, Calif.-based RealtyTrac indicated that foreclosures were filed for one in every 98 Utah households during the first three months of this year.
Some people borrowed more than they should have, McAdams said, but they're in the minority.
"By and large I don't think that's the average person being foreclosed upon," he said. "The person who's losing their home today is somebody who lost their job because of the financial crisis."
McAdams said he thinks the mortgage industry—with its "predatory" lenders—should be more heavily regulated, but that lawmakers can't do it all.
"This is not an easy problem to deal with," he said. "What's needed, though, is leadership."
One way distressed homeowners can find help is by meeting with a counselor whose services are provided free of charge through at least 11 organizations approved by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
AAA Fair Credit Foundation counselor Ryan Carver said 94 percent of the homeowners who seek counseling from his organization are able to avoid foreclosure and that other centers should boast similar success rates.
Afton January, foreclosure prevention coordinator for Utah Housing Coalition, said counselors can help homeowners make "the wisest decision for them" when facing the possibility of foreclosure.
But due to federal budget cuts, the counselors may not be around for long.
"Our funding runs out in June," she said. "Some of our agencies have already seen these effects."
The housing counselors have saved the state a lot of money—approximately $147 million between 2009 and 2010—which is why the lack of funding so unfortunate, said Linda Walker, housing supervisor for Salt Lake Community Action Program.
Nearly all the speakers at the rally said foreclosures don't just affect the people who lose their home, they affect whole communities because of consequences such as a decrease in property maintenance and an increase in crime.
"We are all victims of the housing crisis," McAdams said.