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Soaring foreclosures are continuing to raise questions about the mortgage industry's claims that lenders are making a dent in the housing crisis.

In Utah, the foreclosure rate increased 68.05 percent in May, compared with a year earlier, according to figures released Friday by foreclosure listing service RealtyTrac Inc. That means one in every 675 Utah households received a foreclosure filing during the month of May.

The Beehive State ranked 16th among the nation in the number of foreclosure filings. The national foreclosure rate was one in every 483 households.

In April, RealtyTrac said that for the first quarter of 2008, Utah's foreclosure rate increased 77.59 percent over the same period last year, while the rate jumped 69.36 percent in Salt Lake City year over year.

Nationwide, foreclosure filings last month were up nearly 50 percent compared with a year earlier, and 261,255 homes received at least one foreclosure-related filing in May. That was a 48 percent increase from 176,137 in the same month last year and up 7 percent from April.

The latest grim foreclosure news comes as criticism mounts that efforts by government and the mortgage industry to stem the tide of foreclosures aren't keeping up with the rising number of troubled homeowners. Critics say a Bush administration-backed mortgage-industry coalition, dubbed Hope Now, is falling far short.

"It's clear that these voluntary efforts in and of themselves cannot really make a dent," said Allen Fishbein, director of credit and housing policy at the Consumer Federation of America. "Government intervention is going to be necessary."

Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Economy.com and an adviser to Republican John McCain's presidential campaign, wrote earlier this week that "the Bush administration's efforts to encourage loan modifications and delay foreclosures are being completely overwhelmed."

A Credit Suisse report from this spring predicted that 6.5 million loans will fall into foreclosure over the next five years, reaching more than 8 percent of all U.S. homes.

Sobering statistics like these are leading to more calls for government intervention, especially from lawmakers pushing a plan for the government to guarantee as much as $300 billion in new loans to help borrowers refinance into cheaper, fixed-rate mortgages.

The combination of weak housing sales, falling home values, tighter mortgage lending criteria and a slowing U.S. economy has left financially strapped homeowners with few options to avoid foreclosure. Many can't find buyers or owe more than their home is worth and can't get refinanced into an affordable loan.

Making matters worse, mortgage rates have been rising, reflecting increased concerns about what the Federal Reserve might do to battle inflation. Freddie Mac, the mortgage company, reported Thursday that 30-year fixed-rate mortgages averaged 6.32 percent this week, the highest level in nearly eight months and up sharply from 6.09 percent last week.

According to the RealtyTrac report, foreclosure filings increased from a year earlier in all but 10 states. Nevada, California, Arizona, Florida and Michigan had the highest statewide foreclosure rates.

Metropolitan areas in California and Florida accounted for nine of the top 10 areas with the highest rate of foreclosure. That list was led by Stockton, Calif., and the Cape Coral-Fort Myers area in Florida.

RealtyTrac, based in Irvine, Calif., monitors default notices, auction sale notices and bank repossessions. Nearly 74,000 properties were repossessed by lenders nationwide in May, while more than 58,000 received default notices, the company said.

Rick Sharga, RealtyTrac's vice president of marketing, said foreclosures are unlikely to peak until sometime this fall, as more loans made to borrowers with poor credit records reset at higher levels. "I don't think we've seen the high point," he said.

About 50 to 60 percent of borrowers who receive foreclosure filings are likely to lose their homes, Sharga said. The rest are likely to be able to sell or refinance.

As foreclosed properties pile up, they add to the inventory of homes on the market and drag down home prices. The trend is most dramatic in many parts of California, Florida, Nevada and Arizona, where prices skyrocketed during the housing boom and are now falling precipitously.

Nationwide, one out of every four sales between January and March was a distressed sale, and that figure jumps to more than 50 percent in the hardest-hit areas like Las Vegas, Detroit and distant suburbs of Los Angeles, according to Moody's Economy.com.


E-mail: jlee@desnews.com