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How a California City Wants to Rescue Struggling Homeowners

From VOA Learning English, this is the Economics Report.

The American housing market is growing stronger. Yet many areas are still suffering from the collapse of the market in 2008. Richmond is a small city California. More than half of the homeowners there owe more for their home loans than the properties are currently worth. Such loans are risky for lenders since people in that situation often stop making payments.

Now, city officials are moving forward with a plan to rescue these struggling homeowners. The city wants to buy the mortgages from banks for an amount equal to the current value of the properties. It plans to work with an investment company to help each homeowner get a new mortgage through government programs and private investors. City officials say if banks do not cooperate, they will force the lenders to sell the loans. Richmond plans to use the legal power called eminent domain. This allows officials to take a property but requires the government to pay fair market value.

State and local governments use this legal power to take property needed for public purposes, such as new roads, schools or economic development. At least two banks are asking a federal court to intervene. They want the court to prevent the city of Richmond from using eminent domain. Lawyers for the banks say investors such as retirees would lose money. They also say the action would interfere with their contracts with investors. The United States paid billions of dollars to rescue banks during the world financial crisis. Now, the courts must decide if Richmond, California, can help rescue homeowners through the power of eminent domain.

For VOA Learning English, I'm Laurel Bowman.