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Although there have been countless recent data trends showing progress - but still room for improvement - among key indicators in housing, the March edition of the Obama administration's Housing Scorecard relays similar sentiment: The economy is still healing from the Great Recession.

The scorecard, released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of the Treasury, reports that in February, foreclosure starts continued their downward trend, and in January, house prices remained stable.

"While there is good news in the March scorecard, it's clear the housing market is still in the recovery phase of the cycle," says Kurt Usowski, HUD’s deputy assistant secretary for economic affairs. "The good news is that homeowners' equity is now over $10 trillion, foreclosure starts are at their lowest levels since 2005 and house prices remain stable, but the recovery is stronger in some markets than in others.”

According to the report, house prices remain stable. As of January, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) purchase-only house price index rose 7.4% from last year and ticked up 0.5% (seasonally adjusted) from December. The FHFA seasonally adjusted purchase-only index for the U.S. shows that home values are on par with prices in mid-2005.

The S&P/Case-Shiller 20-City Home Price Index for January posted returns of 13.2% over the past 12 months but was down 0.1% (not seasonally adjusted) from December. Prices, however, are typically weaker at this time of the year. The Case-Shiller index shows that home values are back to their mid-2004 levels. (The Case-Shiller and FHFA price indices are released with a two-month lag.)

Foreclosure starts are at their lowest level since the end of 2005, according to the scorecard. Newly initiated foreclosures, at 51,842 U.S. properties, were down 9% from January and 27% from one year ago - reaching their lowest level since December 2005. A total of 30,307 U.S. properties were repossessed by lenders in February - virtually the same as January and down 33% from a year ago. (The report notes this data comes from RealtyTrac.)

The administration's foreclosure mitigation programs continue to provide relief for millions of homeowners as the recovery from the housing crisis continues. In all, more than 8.2 million mortgage modification and other forms of mortgage assistance arrangements were completed between April 2009 and the end of February of this year, according to the report.

“Overall, with home sales slowing, too many homeowners still underwater and mortgage delinquency rates remaining high compared to historic norms, we must sustain our efforts to encourage continuing recovery in the housing market and help responsible homeowners,” Usowski adds.

The entire March Housing Scorecard is available here.


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