HESPERIA Eminent domain is normally used to seize property in the public's interest but soon, it could be used to acquire the mortgages of Hesperia homeowners who owe more than their properties are worth.

Tuesday night, the Hesperia City Council will consider joining a new Homeownership Protection Program group (known as a joint powers authority or JPA) with the county of San Bernardino and the cities of Fontana and Ontario. The program is intended to help homeowners battered by the collapse of housing values in Southern California.

"Home values have subsequently plummeted, resulting in 'underwater loans' or 'negative equity' where the outstanding principal balance on the home loan exceeds the market value of the house," a staff report prepared for the city council reads in part, "increasing the likelihood of further foreclosures, inhibiting the ability to refinance, and dampening consumer confidence and economic activity."

A partial answer, according to proponents of the JPA, is a program that would use eminent domain to acquire the mortgages of "underwater" residential mortgage loans but not the homes themselves allowing them to restructure the loans to make them more affordable for the homeowners.

"The city is really looking at participating in this (JPA) in order to be part of the dialogue and to be part of the research project," said Kelly Malloy, spokeswoman for the city of Hesperia. "There's no plan for how it could be implemented at this point. ... If, after research, it doesn't work, at least we tried."

The Inland Valleys Association of Realtors opposes the formation of the JPA, which they say violates creditors' property rights.

"How does this affect lenders' willingness to lend in this community?" said Paul Herrera, IVAR's government affairs director. The program effectively "says one group's property rights matter and one group's don't. ... We want to help homeowners, too, but we want to make sure that we aren't causing damage in other areas."

The Hesperia City Council meets at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Hesperia City Hall, 9700 Seventh Ave.

Beau Yarbrough may be reached at (760) 956-7108 or at Beau@HesperiaStar.com. Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/Hesperia.Star.