10/02/2012 10:41 am ET

HuffPost Firsthand Launches: New Storytelling Project Will Focus On Underwater Homeowners

The Huffington Post on Monday launched a new project to allow readers from around the country to tell stories about their neighborhoods.

The new section, called Firsthand, will focus on a different issue each month, with the bulk of the coverage coming from HuffPost readers submitting photos, videos and stories about their experiences, the editors said during an interview with HuffPost Live on Monday.

"I'm one guy in New York," Peter Goodman, executive business editor at HuffPost, told host Josh Zepps, explaining how the project had come to be. "I have a team of reporters, also in New York, and there's only so much that we can do."

"Why not embrace one of the great strengths of The Huffington Post, which is this vibrant community?" Goodman went on. "We don't actually know all of the ways in which, for instance, the underwater borrowing crisis is affecting life in all sorts of communities. Tell us. Show us."

Goodman was referring to the widespread phenomenon of homeowners owing more on their mortgage than their property is worth, a problem that affects some 15 million households in the U.S.

For the rest of October, Firsthand will collect the stories, photos and videos of the nation's underwater borrowers -- and anyone else who is affected by the crisis.

"If we just see all of these photos and videos together, then we'll be able to create this very compelling narrative that's impossible to ignore," said Kristen Taylor, senior community editor at HuffPost. "We can't be everywhere, but our readers actually are."

Speaking from Chicago, Tracy Van Slyke, another guest on the program, pointed out that because underwater homeowners are spending much less than they normally would, the effects of so much negative equity are rippling out into the greater economy.

"We're not just talking about the housing crisis, we're talking about an economic recovery," said Van Slyke, co-director of The New Bottom Line, an organization that advocates for principal reduction for homeowners struggling to make their mortgage payments.

"The housing debt is what's holding our economy down," said Van Slyke. "You're not out of this if your home is not underwater. This is still your fight."

As Goodman, Taylor, Van Slyke and the other guests spoke, HuffPost commenters weighed in with their thoughts.

Not everyone was sympathetic to the plight of the upside-down homeowner.

"What caused the crisis was people thinking they could afford 500,000 dollar homes on 30,000 a year salaries," wrote commenter Malaki33. "The banks put out the product and the American people who wanted it NOW signed on the dotted line."

But others pushed back against the idea that the housing slump was only hurting people who borrowed beyond their means.

"We purchased what we could afford," wrote commenter Kathy_Sandru. "No one told us the bubble would burst & our mortgage would be underwater."