Underwater homeowners find themselves stranded

(CBS News) CHICAGO - Rising home prices are helping folks who've been drowning in debt. In the second quarter of this year, 26 percent of American homeowners owed more on their mortgages than their homes were worth. That's down from 29 percent a year earlier.

One Chicago couple struggling to keep their home are one of the unlucky homeowners.

Connie and Vance Brown planned to spend the rest of their lives in the Chicago condo they bought 14 years ago.

"I don't want to leave," said Connie. "He doesn't want to leave."

But they may not have a choice. They stopped making mortgage payments two years ago after they both lost their full-time jobs. Connie found part time work counseling troubled teens, and Vance, who's a computer tech, has only been able to find a job as a dishwasher.

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As for what she is doing now, Connie said: "Hoping and praying that I get some work, and hoping and praying that my husband can get a better job, and hoping and praying that we get back up on our feet."

A six-month grace period they arranged with their lender is over. Foreclosure is likely. They say they can't leave Chicago to find better jobs because they owe $50,000 more than their condo is worth. It's called being "underwater."

There are more than 731,000 homeowners in Chicago in the same situation. That's more than any other U.S. city. Rising home prices have helped reduce the number of underwater homeowners nationwide by 1.5 million.

Connie and Vance Brown
Connie and Vance Brown
CBS News

But the percentage of those underwater in the hardest hit markets remains high: Fifty-five percent in Las Vegas and 49 percent in Orlando.

Full recovery depends on people like the Browns landing new jobs.

"We were middle class. We were proud of it because we worked our way up for that," said Connie.

She and Vance have nowhere to go.

"The only place I know that we would be going is out on the streets," said Connie.

A New York Federal Reserve study found homeowners underwater are a third less likely to move. And the more debt they owe, the greater the chances they won't leave.