Joe Nelson, Staff Writer
Posted: 05/22/2012 04:00:23 PM PDT

SAN BERNARDINO – High unemployment and a staggering number of people underwater on their mortgages continues to vex San Bernardino County, with no relief expected until late 2015, according to a budget report approved by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

The county added 15,600 jobs in the first three months of 2012, but its unemployment rate, as of March, was still hovering at 12.7 percent, higher than the national unemployment rate of 8.4 percent and California’s unemployment rate of 11.5 percent.

Roughly 264,122 of the 488,422 single family homes in the county have been underwater on their mortgages – in which owners owe more than the home is worth – at some point in the last four years.

Of the underwater homes, 63.7 percent of the homeowners had received notices of default. As a result, a housing recovery is not likely until late 2015, according to the budget report.

“It is clearly my opinion and the opinion of the Board of Supervisors that our economy is still struggling,” said Greg Devereaux, the county’s chief executive officer.

He said the local economy will not rebound until developers start building homes again and more businesses set up shop.

But before that can happen, the county must first get its arms around the foreclosure problem and the high number of people underwater on their mortgages.

“Hence the desire for the board to form a JPA (joint powers authority) with some of our cities and explore what’s out there,” said Devereaux.

The county is pushing to form a JPA that would create a program to assist these troubled homeowners. The cities of Fontana and Ontario have agreed to join the county in the plan.

Hesperia Mayor Russell Blewett has also expressed a strong interest in the program, but his city has yet to embrace the proposal.

County spokesman David Wert said a number of private companies and/or organizations are developing or have developed programs targeting underwater homeowners. The federal Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) is another option, he said.

Despite the projected delay in the recovery of the housing market, it’s not all bad news. The median home price in the county has leveled out at $150,000, and for March that median price was 9.5 percent above the April 2009 low, an affordable price for 77 percent of local families.

David Mlynarski, chief financial officer for the Inland Empire Economic Recovery Corp., a public-private partnership that purchases foreclosed homes, refurbishes them and sells them to first-time homebuyers, said the county must become more business friendly if it wants to attract business to the region and spur job growth.

“We are at the bottom of the list when it comes to being business-friendly and job-friendly,” Mlynarski said.

To read entire story, click here.