“This is not a situation where somebody loses his job for a short time,” she said. “I am not seeing short-term income problems that need to be addressed through bankruptcy.”
A surge of middle-class bankruptcy clients this year likely will be knocking on the doors of the New York-based Consumer Bankruptcy Project, which normally serves low-income filers, said the pro bono organization’s director, John McManus.
“We have a very high demand today with a non-emergency waiting list of six months,” Mr. McManus said. “Many of them, unemployed for a long time, will have exhausted their jobless benefits and savings and, unfortunately, even dipped into their pensions, which are protected under the bankruptcy laws.”
The range of bankruptcy filers Ms. Resop represents illustrates the extent to which the housing and mortgage crises have decimated the lives of her clients.
“Developers, architects and real estate investors, who made millions of dollars during the booming years, now have zero incomes, and they can’t liquidate their assets because their houses are worth so much less than their mortgages,” she said.
The housing collapse also has filtered down to the working- and middle-class households. Ms. Resop also is representing “landscapers, concrete guys, log-home builders, plumbers - the list goes on. They’ve all maxed out their lines of credit.”
The foreseeable future is not looking any brighter, analysts say.
“The home is now becoming the biggest problem with regard to debt burdens,” Mr. Gerdano said.
However, home prices likely will resume their decline this year, hitting a trough during the third quarter of 2010, according to forecasts by Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Economy.com. Housing prices will continue falling in the biggest bubble areas, such as Florida, Southern California, Arizona and Nevada, where the bankruptcy business is booming, Mr. Gerdano said.
The foreclosure epidemic has not reached its peak, according to the projections of Mr. Zandi, who expects foreclosure sales to total 4.8 million between 2009 and 2011. About 25 percent of single-family homes with mortgages have negative equity, said Mr. Zandi, who expects today’s unemployment rate of 10 percent to peak at 10.7 percent in the third quarter, further aggravating the bankruptcy problems.