THE BLOG
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

LA's Housing Mess Not Likely to Be Fixed by Mortgage Modification Plan

Southern California has been badly hit and hurt by the burst housing bubble. Perhaps few places in America are home to as many distressed homeowners so badly in need of mortgage modification in order to keep a roof over their heads.

Over the past several months, I have reported on and written much about the Obama administration's $75 billion plan that was supposed to aid millions of homeowners across the U.S., and thousands, certainly, here in SoCal.

As the months went by, it became painfully obvious to me that the plan was a dismal failure.

But just how much a flop it has been was not clear until a front page New York Times piece this past weekend put it all together.

The conclusion: The vast majority of homeowners seeking relief from mortgages they cannot afford get the cold shoulder from their lending institutions. Many can't even get the mandated three month trial modification that is supposed to eventually turn into a permanent fix; far fewer get the permanent modification they so urgently need. Just about no one gets a reduction in their principal; only interest.

On top of that, reports the paper, banks have not exactly bent over backwards to inform their customers that even a three month trial modification will likely dramatically lower a credit score, making future financing even more difficult. Talk about a vicious cycle.

So, what does this portend for Los Angeles and the region?

The main concern shared by many economists and real estate experts now is that the mortgage modification program is just putting off for a few months, maybe a year at best, a rising tide of foreclosures.

This would be bad news in any part of the nation, but particularly so here in Southern California, where the alleged nascent economic recovery is, perhaps, more fragile than most other regions.

California's -- and L.A's -- unemployment and under-employment (those who seek full-time jobs but can only find part-time ones) rates are among the highest in the country. Add to that toxic mortgage time-bombs that even now are ticking ever more loudly, and what you have is a potentially lethal mixture that doesn't bode well for any near-term economic resurrection here.

The only real fix might have been a law -- nixed by Congress -- that would have permitted bankruptcy judges, under certain circumstances, to actually reduce the principal of a mortgage loan.

Absent that, the government is going to have to be far more imaginative than it has proven to be thus far if Southern California is to escape what could be an even darker future.

Charles Feldman is a journalist, media consultant and co-author of the book, "No Time To Think-The Menace of Media Speed and the 24-hour News Cycle." He has covered police and politics in L.A., since 1995, and is a regular contributor of investigative reporting to KNX1070 Newsradio.