Pledges of support from housing and mortgage banking officials will help make a new consumer group "a force to be reckoned with" in its war against unwarranted home foreclosures and mortgage abuse, founders say.

About 100 people attended a meeting last week sponsored by Help Save Homes, including homeowners who have experienced problems with mortgage companies and the heads of the Utah Mortgage Bankers Association and the Utah office of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.Kristy Jerome of Smithfield said Help Save Homes was formed after her own four-year battle to save her family home from unjustified foreclosure led to the discovery that others were having similar problems.

Jerome said she took her case to state Rep. Frank Prante, D-Logan, who had also experienced problems with Dallas-based Lomas Mortgage USA and was already questioning industry officials.

Richard Bell, state HUD director, said he was unaware of mortgage problems in Utah until recently.

"I have to admit that in many cases our office has not given you the best attention, especially in cases involving Lomas," he said. "But we are putting our best servicing person on that company starting Monday."

"I know now that there are reasons to be concerned about the widespread and sometimes unjustified problems with mortgage companies, and I feel our office can act as a mediator in many cases," he added.

Bell said from 1977-1979 there were only about four foreclosures on federally insured mortgages each year. Last year there were 1,960, he said, and the number could reach at least 2,000 annually.

The figures do not include foreclosures where conventional or other type loans are involved.

Paul Thurston, president of the Mortgage Bankers Association, said his group can also assist property owners. "When there are problems with mortgage servicing, we want to know about it," he said.

Prante said Thurston's group has already helped by putting pressure on Lomas. He added that some legislative action will be needed.

One example, he said, could be a law enabling homeowners to recover attorney's fees when they have to take their claims against mortgage companies to court.

Prante said Help Save Homes plans to hold further meetings in other parts of the state because "there is power in numbers."