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Easley pushing plan to help struggling homeowners

Gov. Mike Easley is calling on lawmakers to approve a measure that could help some homeowners struggling to pay their mortgages.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Gov. Mike Easley called on lawmakers Tuesday to approve a measure that could help some homeowners struggling to pay their mortgages.
A House judiciary committee began examining House Bill 2623 on Tuesday but didn't vote on it.

The proposal would require that mortgage providers give borrowers at least 45 days notice before starting foreclosure proceedings. The commissioner of banks would be notified about the delinquent borrowers and would have the power to negotiate new loan terms to help the homeowner.

Through the end of May, foreclosures were up 17 percent statewide over last year.

Easley said House Bill 2623 could help up to 25,000 North Carolina families keep their homes – about half of the expected foreclosures statewide in the next two years – who ran into financial difficulties when payments on their adjustable-rate mortgages ballooned.

"These are hard-working, middle-class families that have just run up on a stump," Easley said in a news conference. "If we can do anything as a state – as a government – to facilitate a consensus, to broker an agreement, then we ought to do that to help these families out.

"This is not a bailout. This is not the state taking money and trying to pay mortgages off for people. This is not the state trying to subsidize banks. This is just the state trying to come together with the lending institution ... and the homeowner."

Rep. Dan Blue, D-Wake, the chief sponsor of the bill, said the legislation is targeted at families, noting the homes involved in the program must be owner-occupied.

"Foreclosures mean not only tragedy for the families that may be involved, but for their communities," Blue said. "We're concerned about saving neighborhoods and saving families and saving this investment and the equity that they have in houses."

Commissioner of Banks Joe Smith said he would use existing staff to carry out the program, which officials expect to be fully operational by this fall.

The plan needs the approval of both the full House and the Senate before it could be sent to the governor's desk for Easley's signature.