When people lose their homes, we all lose

When people lose their homes, we all lose

- in Progressive Voices

Home: it's the place where, as Robert Frost wrote, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.

A record number of North Carolinians lost that place last year. Foreclosures reached an all-time high, and a new analysis has found that approximately one in every 63 North Carolina housing units was in foreclosure during 2010. This crisis strikes at the core of the American dream.

With temperatures dropping outside, consider the immediate consequences on families expelled from their homes. With the middle class shrinking, consider the impact on our nation if hardworking, everyday people can't access this traditional path to prosperity.

When people lose their homes, we all lose. Property values fall, harming neighborhoods. The local tax base is diminished, affecting schools and vital public safety services. The benefits from the safe, stable communities created by homeownership affect everyone.

On small ray of hope in the current bleak picture is that North Carolina is better off than a lot of states. Proactive measures by state leaders to prevent foreclosure have helped the state stay ahead of places like Nevada, where one in 11 homes is in foreclosure, and the nation at large, where one in 45 homes received a foreclosure filing last year. While foreclosures nationwide are expected to peak in 2011, many observers think North Carolina may have seen the worst of the crisis already.

The lesson is to build on our hard-won successes here. We have to preserve the vital public investments that create prosperity.

First, North Carolina must do no harm to our key public structures. Foreclosure prevention programs help keep our neighborhoods secure and stable. Preserving the successful Home Protection Fund will ensure that more of our people have affordable place to call home.

Additionally, there are rumblings that some lawmakers want to undermine one of North Carolina's signature legislative achievements from the last legislative session, the Homeowner and Homebuyer Protection Act.

This law protects consumers against foreclosure rescue scams, where shady operators try to take advantage of homeowners in crisis. Now is exactly the time when common-sense legislation needs to be in place, protecting North Carolinians. The Homeowner and Homebuyer Protection Act stops shady dealers from destroying neighborhoods, and deserves strong support.

We must also recognize that preserving what we have is necessary but not sufficient. When working families are losing their homes and the middle class is shrinking, more needs to be done.

At this point, the foreclosure problem is also a jobs problem. High unemployment is undeniably a main reason for families falling behind on mortgage payments.

North Carolina's leaders have to protect our state's jobs. Yes, the state's budget gap is daunting. But when we're trying to preserve North Carolina's recovery, we have to start by preserving jobs. Employed workers are workers that can make mortgage payments.

All options have to be on the table. We need creative job-creation strategies, such as state assistance for small businesses that create new jobs. Perhaps it's also time to consider a temporary foreclosure moratorium.

North Carolina has shown leadership on foreclosure prevention. If we want economic prosperity, we have to make sure that stays true.

Communities from Murphy to Manteo prosper when we keep people in their homes. With the right choices, we can make sure all North Carolinians have a place to come home to.

Jeff Shaw is the Director of Communications at the North Carolina Justice Center.