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How can a region like Tampa Bay rebound when 60 percent of housing is underwater?

Wake up and good morning. One of the busier reporters on the St. Petersburg Times staff these days is, no surprise, real estate staff writer Mark Puente. Late last week he found himself again covering news that the Zillow real estate market database had found the value of homes in the Tampa Bay market once again slipping. But what caught my eye lower in the story was this sentence:

The percentage of Tampa Bay homeowners who owe more on their mortgage than their home is worth now stands at 59.8, a 10.7 percent jump from last March.

Whoa. Check out the Zillow table above -- the last row is the key, indicating NEGATIVE EQUITY, which is mortgage talk for being underwater. When did we catapult from about 50 percent to 60 percent? So I checked. Looks like Tampa Bay got the most attention of as a market with half its homes underwater (owing more on the mortgage than the home is worth) in latter 2009. So we've apparently been creeping up ever since and now can claim 6 of every 10 homes are underwater.

How bad is this?

* A lot worse than the nation's: More than 28 percent of U.S. homeowners owed more than their properties were worth in the first quarter as values fell the most since 2008, Zillow Inc. said last week. So Tampa Bay's underwater status is more than twice the national average.

* Be glad we're not Las Vegas: In Las Vegas, 85 percent of homes with mortgages were underwater, the most of any city tracked by Zillow.

* Some other western metro areas are hurting, too: Reno, Nevada, was at 73 percent underwater, while Phoenix was 68 percent.

* Is Modesto our new 'sister' city? Modesto, California, and Tampa both have 60 percent underwater housing markets and are in the Top Five nationwide in highest percentage.

Apparently there is a bottom to housing markets in some Florida areas. Zillow says property values rose in only three of the 132 regions it tracks. And one of them was Fort Myers where values gained 2.4 percent -- but only after falling more than 60 percent from their 2006 peak because they "over-corrected," Zillow says. Here's more from this Bloomberg News story.

Bottom line? No regional economy's going to rebound with 60 percent of its housing underwater. We've got to find ways to get that number under control and shrink it. Is it a choice of finding more government or banking industry aid, hoping prices will improve in time? Or is it expediting foreclosures, draconian though that may be, in order to clear a market in financial limbo? Any fresh ideas out there?

-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, St. Petersburg Times