Correction to This Article
A July 5 editorial incorrectly referred to Gerald E. Connolly, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, as the Democratic candidate in Virginia's 10th Congressional District. He is the candidate in the 11th District.

Fuzzy Foreclosure Math

Saturday, July 5, 2008

ABOLD PLAN to turn foreclosed homes into affordable housing in Fairfax County is a good idea that is based on fuzzy math. Foreclosures are on the rise in Fairfax, as they are throughout the country, but it's unclear whether the problem is severe enough to require government intervention. Some Fairfax officials say that 3,500 homes in the county were foreclosed on in the first three months of 2008; others say that the number is closer to 2,000. There are no data on how long properties in Fairfax that are foreclosed on remain on the market, and it may be that the private sector is taking care of the problem.

The program, championed by Gerald E. Connolly, chairman of the Board of Supervisors and the Democrats' 10th District candidate for Congress, aims to stabilize areas where clusters of homes that have been foreclosed on threaten property values. The board has agreed to divert $10 million in tax revenue toward the purchase of as many as 200 foreclosed houses. The county will buy about 10 properties initially and will provide qualified buyers with loans for the rest. Most of the aid will be directed to first-time buyers earning up to $75,000, and purchases will be limited to $385,000. The board will also increase funding for programs that counsel homeowners who are on the brink of foreclosure.

The county's housing department will administer these programs, but supervisors will decide which homes to buy. It is unclear how they plan to make this decision. Supervisors said that they would target areas at risk of becoming foreclosure clusters, including neighborhoods in Herndon, Centreville, Vienna and Falls Church. But without precise data on foreclosures, the decision will largely be subjective. This ambiguity could allow politics to enter the equation, particularly for supervisors running for office. It is also unclear whether the purchase of 10 homes would put a dent in the foreclosure rate or arrest falling property values. The housing department will go over many of these details with supervisors in a July 21 meeting.

The board deserves credit for attempting to address the housing problem, but safeguards must be put in place before the program takes effect. Supervisors should work with the housing department to develop objective criteria that would help in deciding which properties to purchase. The county should also refrain from purchasing property until it has been on the market for a number of months. Fairfax officials should proceed cautiously until these details have been hashed out.

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