Fearing that a spike in foreclosures will lower property values, Miramar is exploring ways for the city to help homeowners in distress.
City officials have asked local banks to hold seminars for residents about mortgage practices and to bankroll an emergency fund for homeowners.
"We have families in the city who may be in over their heads," said City Commissioner Troy Samuels, who is spearheading the initiative. We need to help our families, educate them and help protect them."
In the first three months of 2006, the city had nine foreclosure filings. During the same period this year, there were 43.
Miramar, which has 24,330 owner-occupied homes, including town houses and condos, is looking to mirror programs in Louisville, Ky., San Antonio, Texas, Phoenix, Ariz., and other cities that offer financial help and/or mortgage education.
Officials are worried that communities will suffer as foreclosures rise: Property values fall, people move from the neighborhood, and foreclosed homes remain vacant for months, which encourages vandalism.
"It's a domino effect of negativity," said Michael Wallace, a senior legislative counsel at the National League of Cities, which is fighting for mortgage industry regulations.
Roughly half of owners of new homes in Miramar hold adjustable-rate mortgages, many of which will reset soon with higher interest rates, increasing monthly payments, said City Manager Bob Payton.
"It's alarming," Payton said. "These are hard-work-ing people, and they have secure jobs. They just got locked up in a mortgage that's not best suited for them."
Samuels said he has spo-ken to Eastern Financial Florida Credit Union, Tropical Financial Credit Union and RBC Centura Bank about working with the city to help stave off foreclosures.
"We told him we would be interested in learning more about it and may be potentially supporting it," said Mark Holmes, spokesman for Eastern Financial.
Miramar has $60,000 in state money to assist some homeowners who cannot afford to pay their mortgages.
But that program comes with income restrictions that disqualify many home-owners in the city, where the average home value is $451,915 for single-family homes and $246,000 for condos.
"A large group of people who are being impacted in this market are middle and upper middle class," said Gus Zambrano, Miramar's economic development and revitalization director.
Since the mid-'90s, 9,839 homes have been built west of Interstate 75, helping to make Miramar one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Those expensive new homes lured many buyers using unconventional mortgages.
Flight attendant Joann Soufisiavash bought a sprawling Miramar home for $459,900 almost two years ago using 100 percent financing and two mortgages.
Now she can't afford the $2,800 payment (not includ-ing taxes and insurance), and her home in a gated community is in the process of foreclosure.
She owes $502,000 on it. It's has been appraised at $439,000.
"My American dream turned into a nightmare," said Soufisiavash, 46. "I don't know how this is going to end up."