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Foreclosure petitions rise for 2d month

But for year so far, Mass. figure down

By Jenifer B. McKim
Globe Staff / May 18, 2011

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In April lenders began the process of seizing Massachusetts homes at a faster rate for the second straight month, a sign that foreclosures could rise again, according to some housing specialists.

The 1,192 foreclosure petitions filed last month marked a nearly 14 percent increase over March and was the highest monthly total since September, according to data released yesterday by Warren Group, a Boston company that tracks local real estate. A petition is typically triggered when a homeowner is more than three months behind on mortgage payments, and is the first step in the foreclosure process.

For the year, however, petitions are still down 58.6 percent compared with the first four months of 2010, Warren Group said.

Property takings across the United States slowed last year following widespread concerns about flawed and illegal foreclosures, causing major lenders such as Bank of America Corp. to halt proceedings temporarily while they examined their internal procedures. But economists were quick to warn that the lull did nothing to solve the nation’s foreclosure crisis, which has crippled the housing market.

“Banks are picking up their foreclosure activity,’’ said Nadine Cohen, a managing attorney with the Greater Boston Legal Services, a nonprofit that works with low-income clients. “The economy is never going to improve until we deal with the foreclosure crisis.’’

Melonie Griffiths, a community organizer with the Jamaica Plain housing advocacy group City Life/Vida Urbana said there are indications that lenders are starting to process more foreclosures locally. In particular, she said, many homeowners are coming to community meetings to complain that they can’t get lenders to approve loan modi fications that would help them keep their homes.

“They can’t get modifications that work,’’ Griffiths said.

Even as petitions rise, foreclosure deeds — indicating a completed home seizure — fell last month.

There were 518 in April, a 6.2 percent decline from March and a 62.3 percent slide from the 1,375 recorded in April 2010. Through the first four months of 2011, there have been 2,111 deeds recorded, a 56.2 percent decrease from January through April of last year.

Barry Bluestone, dean of the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University, said it is too early to tell whether a two-month increase in petitions will have longer-term implications. The local economy is starting to improve, he said, something which should help limit the number of foreclosures in Massachusetts. Instead of a warning, Bluestone saw good news in yesterday’s foreclosure data.

“During the rest of this year we should continue to see foreclosures at a reasonable low level,’’ said Bluestone. “It is another piece of statistical evidence which gives me some greater confidence in the Massachusetts economy.’’

Paul Willen, a senior economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, also expects housing news to improve.

“I anticipate the numbers will get better as the recovery solidifies and house prices bottom out,’’ said Willen. “I don’t think it means we are about to go into a wave of foreclosures.’’

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