Merced Foreclosures Among Highest in Nation

August 17, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
As the country continues to deal with a weakening economy one valley community is being hit especially hard.Merced is number two in the nation when it comes to foreclosure filings and the county's unemployment rate is the highest in valley.

One out of 73 homes in the area is in foreclosure according to the latest report from RealtyTrac. Only Cape Coral/Fort Myers Florida has it worse, giving Merced the dubious distinction of second in the nation.

The ranking came as a shock to Ellie Wooten. She said she knew things were bad, but she didn't realize her community was among the worst in the nation. "I just hate to see that," said Wooten.

Wooten now finds herself wearing two hats; one, as the city's mayor, the other, as a realtor. She and her fellow realtors say it's common for each of them to see 5-10 new foreclosure listings a week. White boards in several offices show dozens of REO's, or real estate owned listings.

The foreclosure issue in Merced is now capturing the attention of national media. Wooten was interviewed by a New York Times reporter last week and drove him around town to show him the reality of the problem. "This is the real story. It's not a fairytale, it's not pleasant, it's not funny, it's serious. And people are being hurt," said Wooten.

In addition to the housing crisis, Merced's unemployment rate for July was 12.1%, the highest in the valley, and well over the state's 7.3%.

Nannette Potter with the Employment Development Department said it hasn't been that high since 1999. Still, Potter said there isn't a major cause for alarm. "We haven't seen a huge fluctuation in the number of jobs. We've only seen a fluctuation in people entering the workforce. So the jobs aren't disappearing," said Potter.

As far as the foreclosure crisis, there is no positive spin. And Wooten sees it getting worse before it gets better. "I see another adjustment if you will in these adjustable rate loans, which is going to bring in a new wave," said Wooten.

While nationwide, jobs in construction are in a decline, Merced lost about 300 construction jobs last year. Some attribute that to the construction at UC Merced and commercial development.

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