By Doug Ireland
---- — SALEM — As the Rockingham County register of deeds, Cathy Stacey closely follows the trends of the local real estate market.
She knows that a gradual decline in property foreclosures can be attributed to a steadily improving economy.
So, while her records indicate Rockingham County is on pace to have the fewest number of foreclosures since before the recession, there are other numbers that trouble her.
Stacey, a Salem resident, was disheartened to see six foreclosure deeds from her hometown within two days this week. But she was happy to see the county is on track to have about 570 foreclosures this year, compared to 743 last year and a high of 849 in 2010.
At Salem Town Hall, human services director Kathleen Walton was troubled when she looked online and saw scores of foreclosed homes for sale throughout the area. She decided something had to be done.
"There is a huge need for help and people don't know where to turn," Walton said.
Despite reports the economy is improving, Walton said, the town welfare office is seeing a surge in desperate residents looking for assistance.
"Folks are still continuing to live in their homes even though they have been foreclosed," she said.
Walton contacted The Foreclosure Relief Project. It's an initiative established by the New Hampshire Bar Association, New Hampshire Legal Assistance and the Legal Advice and Referral Center earlier this year to prevent financially strapped homeowners from losing their properties through foreclosure.
The Foreclosure Relief Project is offering clinics throughout the state, aimed at providing free legal advice to property owners. A clinic will be held at Kelley Library on Oct. 17 at 2 p.m. to help local homeowners.
"We are hoping the clinic will provide the information people need," Walton said.
The Foreclosure Relief Project has provided approximately a dozen clinics since March, offering advice from about 70 lawyers who are volunteering their services, according to Vanessa Beauchesne, the project's coordinator.
"It is still a huge problem right now," Beauchesne said of foreclosures. "There are not a lot of situations where you can meet a lawyer for free."
Several lawyers attend each two-hour clinic to explain the foreclosure process, loan modification programs and other options to help homeowners, Beauchesne said. Attorneys then advise homeowners of their personal options, with some lawyers taking on cases pro bono or at a reduced cost, she said.
The three-year project was made possible through money New Hampshire received as part of the $25 billion national mortgage settlement. She would not say how much money the Granite State received.
The program has helped some homeowners get through some tough situations, she said.
"We have had some good success stories," Beauchesne said. "We have had some people who can't thank us enough."
Although it's not known how much of an impact the project has had in reducing foreclosures in the state, the number is gradually declining, according to Jane Law of the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority.
"Foreclosures are on track to be the lowest since 2007." Law said. "There is an overall improvement in the economy and housing in general."
Fewer than 3,000 foreclosures are expected across the state in 2013, compared to 3,659 in 2012, 3.863 in 2011 and a high of 3,953 in 2010, she said.
The Housing Authority, working in conjunction with the state's Justice and Banking departments, offers help for homeowners at HomeHelpNH.org.
To attend the Salem clinic and learn more about the project, contact Beauchesne at 715-3255 or go to FRP@nhbar.org. Preregistration is required.