PORTLAND -- Along with its production of grass seed, hazelnuts and Christmas trees, Oregon is becoming a national leader of a different kind.
The state's foreclosure rate unexpectedly jumped 20 percent in the first quarter, making it No. 3 in the country.
Oregon still ranks far behind longtime foreclosure champs Nevada and Florida. But the rate of increase has put it in the top five.
"It's very discouraging," said Tim Duy, a University of Oregon economics professor. "For all those people who said, 'No, we don't have a housing bubble,' well, we did."
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Oregon's foreclosure hot spots are Crook, Deschutes, Jefferson, Josephine, Jackson, Klamath, Yamhill, Columbia and Curry counties.
The rising foreclosure numbers are partly a function of timing: Oregon was late to enter the recession, so its foreclosure rate will likely stay higher longer, said the state's senior economist, Josh Harwood.
"It's a situation that is getting worse," Harwood said. "It will only get better when we see better job growth, which we're not expecting through the end of this year."
The U.S. Treasury Department has determined Oregon is one of 20 states that were hardest hit by the foreclosure wave, and has tentatively allocated $88 million in federal assistance to struggling homeowners.
Oregon Housing and Community Services, the state's housing finance agency, hopes to disperse the money to at least 6,300 homeowners starting late this summer or early fall.
At least 22,653 Oregon homeowners were in foreclosure or more than 90 days delinquent on their mortgage as of January. That number is an estimate from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which acknowledges that its figures are probably 30 to 50 percent short of the actual totals.
The Federal Reserve number also doesn't count the tens of thousands of Oregonians who have already lost their homes since the housing bust.
In 2007, when the mortgage lending industry collapsed and foreclosures soared in much of the nation, Multnomah County real estate and mortgage officials insisted Oregon was somehow protected from the housing crash. That was wishful thinking.
Nearly 1,100 Multnomah County residents lost their homes to foreclosure in 2008, more than double the figure from a year before.
It only got worse in 2009, when more than 1,900 locals gave up their homes. Many hoped that 2009 was the bottom.
New defaults are down slightly in 2010, but the number of county foreclosures is on track to top 2,000, well in excess of 2009.