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San Bernardino is among the hardest hit in the nation by the housing bust. Over 43 percent of homes in the county are underwater, meaning the homeowner owes more to the bank than the house is worth.
Unemployment there stands at almost 12 percent, and in some municipalities, it tops 30 percent.
The scale of the problems has officials considering an unusual strategy: Use the power of eminent domain to acquire mortgages from current lenders at reduced prices, and then re-sell the mortgage with a lowered principal and monthly payment to help keep homeowners in their homes.
County officials and some private investors say it’s a legitimate use of eminent domain. New York Times business columnist Joe Nocera says it may be “housing’s last chance.” The Wall Street Journal calls it “an eminently bad idea” that violates property rights and will end up hurting taxpayers.
On Friday, San Bernardino county holds its first public hearing on the idea.