Joe Nelson, Staff Writer
Posted: 04/11/2012 07:05:54 PM PDT

San Bernardino County and the cities of Ontario, Fontana and Hesperia are joining forces to establish a program to assist homewoners who are underwater on their mortgages.

It is part of the county’s “Vision” plan – a roadmap to the county’s future that establishes clear-cut goals to achieve optimum quality of life for the people who live in its 24 cities and unincorporated areas.

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors adopted a set of 39 goals, falling into eight categories, that the county hopes to see come to fruition in the next 20 years.

The board also approved a resolution to establish a joint-powers authority composed of the county and the cities of Ontario, Fontana and Hesperia. The group will establish the Homeownership Protection Program to help people whose home values have plummeted so much in the sub-prime mortgage crisis that the outstanding principal on their homes exceeds the market value, resulting in negative equity.

Hesperia Mayor Russ Blewett, a former real estate broker and developer, has advocated for such a program since 2008. He wouldn’t divulge specifics about the planned program, as the details have yet to be sorted out.

But he assures it is a program that will be embraced by all, except maybe the banks.

“Let’s just say that the homeowner is going to benefit tremendously, and they will flat out love it,” Blewett said Wednesday. “We will face some opposition, but not from the homeowners or the citizens.”

When asked if he expected the banks to be the opposing force behind the program, Blewett would only say, “I’m sure we will be dealing with the banks somewhere down the line.”

The city of Hesperia has identified roughly 1,000 homeowners who are underwater on their mortgages, but there are likely more – many more, Blewett said.

Ontario City Manager Chris Hughes said establishing the joint-powers authority formalizes the process and serves as a catalyst for action.

“If we don’t clear this problem out, the longer it will take us to get out of this recession,” Hughes said.

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