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Foreclosures: Economic Devastation in Rural Arizona

One out of every 445 homes in Coconino County, or 136 homes, were in some stage of foreclosure in October, according to RealtyTrac. That's more than seven times the foreclosure rate of October 2006, when Coconino County had 19 foreclosures. A surge of foreclosures in Flagstaff that began with high-end, luxury homes is now plaguing homes in all price ranges - from a $150,000 house in Kachina Village to a $750,000 mansion in the University Heights neighborhood, said Cher Ferry, a housing counselor with the nonprofit group BothHands, which helps connect residents with affordable housing. In the past year, Ferry has been working longer days to help homeowners in Coconino, Mohave and Yavapai counties renegotiate mortgages as the foreclosure crisis has "just encompassed everything." "If you take 10 people out of an area here, it's like taking 50 people out of a neighborhood in Phoenix," Ferry said. "It's almost like you have an abandoned area. Ten families leaving one small rural area in Flagstaff is huge. And they have nowhere to go. So a lot of them just pack up and move out of Flagstaff." Ferry said many of Flagstaff's former homeowners follow the job market to Phoenix, where the unemployment rate was 8.5 percent in October, compared with the state's 9.5 percent unemployment rate, according to the Arizona Department of Commerce. Flagstaff, with roughly 60,000 residents in 2008, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, had an unemployment rate of 7.9 percent in October, but nearly 60 percent of its workers were in lower-paying, service-related positions, as the town relies heavily on tourism. "Jobs up here are very hard to get," Ferry said. "We have hotels, we have fast food. We don't have a lot of higher-paying jobs." The Northern Arizona Food Bank in Flagstaff has been grappling with a greater demand for food and with fewer donations, a trend that office manager Amanda Pickering attributes in part to homeowners trying to stave off foreclosure. Demand for food assistance increased so sharply between 2008 and 2009 that the food bank had to be more stringent about requiring proof of need and income, she said.

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