Commercial properties mortgage crisis looms

WASHINGTON (AP) — The full scope of the housing meltdown isn’t clear and already there are ominous signs of a new crisis — one that could turn out the lights on malls, hotels and storefronts nationwide.

Even as the holiday shopping season begins in full swing, the same events poisoning the housing market are now at work on commercial properties, and the bad news is trickling in. Malls from Michigan to Georgia are entering foreclosure.

Hotels in Tucson, Ariz., and Hilton Head, S.C., also are about to default on their mortgages.

That pace is expected to quicken. The number of late payments and defaults will double, if not triple, by the end of next year, according to analysts from Fitch Ratings Ltd., which evaluates companies’ credit.

“We’re probably in the first inning of the commercial mortgage problem,” said Scott Tross, a real estate lawyer with Herrick Feinstein in New Jersey.

That’s bad news for more than just property owners. When businesses go dark, employees lose jobs. Towns lose tax revenue. School budgets and social services feel the pinch.

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