A hard hit county

The Washington Post set out to measure the effects of the Great Recession at the neighborhood level in Prince George’s County, which is by far the wealthiest majority-black county in the United States. It was also one of the counties hardest hit during the foreclosure crisis.

No single government or commercial database exists for this purpose. Post reporters combined several databases from public and private sources to determine the rates of foreclosure across Prince George’s since late 2007.

The Post purchased data from Lender Processing Services, a leading source of foreclosure information that is now known as Black Knight Analytics. The LPS data includes a description of the property, lender information and type of loan.

To calculate default rates, reporters then mapped the data according to census tract information contained in federal Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data, which tracks loan applications. To arrive at an estimate of subprime loans, The Post relied on the Federal Reserve’s high-cost loan definition, which experts have used as a proxy for subprime.

To provide comparisons with other counties, The Post used data from RealtyTrac, which collects and analyzes mortgage foreclosure data nationwide. Census data was used to determine demographic and economic characteristics of the tracts in Prince George’s.

The combined data revealed that Fairwood, a census tract with the highest median household income in the county at more than $170,000, had the fourth-highest foreclosure rate.

To analyze the nature of the loans in Fairwood, including whether the loan was subprime, reporters and researchers consulted experts and pulled original mortgage documents from court files and the Maryland State Archives.

The Maryland court case Web site was also searched for breach of contract filings to determine the current status of homes where loans have defaulted but foreclosures have yet to be initiated.