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Foreclosures worm way into tony towns

Wealthier areas are feeling the strain that has already scarred other communities

By Jenifer B. McKim
Globe Staff / December 31, 2009

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The state’s foreclosure crisis, which has largely battered lower cost cities like Worcester, Springfield, and Lynn, is slowly creeping into the state’s tonier towns, reflecting a tough financial year for even some of Massachusetts’ wealthiest residents.

Affluent towns including Nantucket, Concord, Weston, and Winchester, saw triple or quadruple digit percent increases in foreclosure deeds during the first 11 months of the year, according to data released yesterday by Warren Group, a private company that tracks real estate data.

The numbers are tiny to be sure - 19 homes in Nantucket and six in Concord - a problem dwarfed by the hundreds of homes lost to foreclosure in cities like Springfield, Worcester, and Brockton. However, the increasing problem in costlier towns presents evidence that the battered economy and an 8.8 percent unemployment rate is leaving no community untouched, many housing experts agree.

“The wealthier communities are experiencing maybe for the first time the hardship that low-income and minority communities have been feeling for many years,’’ said Bruce Marks, chief executive of the Neighborhood Assistance Corp. of America, a nonprofit advocacy organization based in Jamaica Plain.

Statewide, the number of foreclosure deeds, which represent a completed foreclosure, dropped 26.8 percent to 8,409 between January and November compared with the same time last year, according to Warren Group. But petitions, the first step in a foreclosure process, increased 28.2 percent this year to 25,868 - a sign that the foreclosure crisis has yet to ebb.

Many communities that were hardest hit by foreclosures over the last several years saw the problem slow in 2009. For example, in Worcester the number of foreclosure deeds fell to 445 between January and November, a 36.8 percent drop compared with the same time last year. Dorchester, the Boston neighborhood most plagued by streets of boarded-up and abandoned buildings, saw foreclosure deeds fall 40.5 percent to 352 this year.

Dean Baker, codirector of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C., said that poorer neighborhoods most affected by the subprime market and predatory lending probably have seen the worst wave of the foreclosure crisis, which occurred in 2007 and 2008. Most vulnerable homeowners already have lost their homes. In wealthier neighborhoods, residents are now being affected by the economy and housing price declines that can wipe out all their equity, he said.

“You have record high rates of unemployment for people with college degrees,’’ Baker said.

In Nantucket, where median home prices hover at about $1.25 million, 19 homes were lost to foreclosure during the first 11 months of the year, up 1,800 percent from the one recorded foreclosure in 2008, according to Warren Group. Foreclosure petitions also jumped to 75, a 102.7 percent increased compared with the same period in 2008.

Weston, where median home prices reach $1.2 million, saw a rise in foreclosure deeds between January and November of this year to six compared with two during the same time last year. Seventeen homeowners went into foreclosure this year, representing a 41 percent increase from the year before, according to Warren data.

Virginia Pratt, a foreclosure prevention counselor at the nonprofit, Jamaica Plain-based Ecumenical Social Action Committee, said she gets more calls from distressed homeowners in the suburbs. She said many with incomes of about $150,000 talk about losing their jobs or having a health complication that limits their income. They no longer can access credit to help them through lean times and aren’t able to cut costs enough.

“The lower income doesn’t support the higher income lifestyle,’’ she said. “It’s people being stuck.’’

Jenifer B. McKim can be reached at jmckim@globe.com.