Despite the claimed end of the recession, the number of foreclosure proceedings on the Vineyard appears to be increasing, along with unemployment.

Analysis of the space taken up by foreclosure-related advertising in the Gazette shows that it took up more than twice the column inches in the December quarter of 2009, compared with the same period in 2008.

And Chris Wells, president of the Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank, said this week he believed unemployment on the Island could be as high as 50 per cent over the next couple of months.

It appears the Island, which was relatively lightly touched by the first wave of the real estate crisis, caused by predatory loans and falling home values, has been more heavily hit by the second wave, caused by rising unemployment.

In the last quarter of 2008, at the height of the national financial crisis, foreclosure-related notices in the Gazette totaled 418 column inches. In the year just ended, it was 929.5 inches.

Broken down by month, the comparative figures were for 2008 and 2009 were: October 241 and 540; November 125 and 195; December 52 and 194.5.

The trend is upward. In January 2008, there was a total of 83 column inches of foreclosures for the entire month; the first three weeks of this year saw 148.5 inches.

And even those figures probably understate the number of homeowners in distress. As Mr. Wells noted, many people simply sell up, losing the equity in their homes, before foreclosure.

“I would make three observations about the foreclosure situation,” Mr. Wells said.

“First, last year it became sort of unfashionable for banks to put the full press on to foreclose because they had unofficial mandates from the federal government to work with borrowers as long as they could. That may have artificially reduced the number of foreclosures.”

Second, Mr. Wells said, borrowers also took actions to delay the inevitable.

“One of them is personal bankruptcy, voluntary bankruptcy, or some kind of forebearance that has to work its way through the system. It takes time to show inability to meet that forbearance by the bank. It takes time to show inability to meet that forbearance by the bank,” the banker said. He continued:

“So the problems that developed before 2009 . . . it’s just taken that long to go through the process.

“The third thing is the general trend in the overall economy. Although there are certainly signs of improvement, the unemployment rate is not coming down.

“I don’t know what the official rate [of unemployment] is on the Island, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s at 50 per cent in the next couple of months.”

Even in good years, Mr. Wells said, the seasonality of the Vineyard economy saw maybe 25 per cent of people without paid jobs in the slow months of February and March.

“That’s in robust times, say at the peak in 2007. There were just more construction jobs that carried their laborers, the lower end positions, further into the off-season,” he said.

But that is no longer the case.

The good news, or at least the less bad news, is that real estate prices have not declined here to anything like the extent they have elsewhere in the country.

“It’s not like Detroit, where values have been written down 90 per cent. Here it’s maybe 10 percent to 30 per cent, depending on the town. Which means people who have got into a difficult situation here have mostly been able to exit the loan with a sale,” Mr. Wells said.

“So if you bought a house for $400,000 and you got a loan for $320,000, and you need to get out, well, 320 happens to be a price that sells. So people are losing their equity, but avoiding foreclosure.”

Still, the anecdotal evidence available through his own bank points to a deteriorating situation.

“We try very hard to avoid foreclosure; we had only two in all of last year. But we have two scheduled this year, and probably a third. Those are situations where it’s unavoidable. And it’s only January,” he said.

Most of the foreclosures which proceeded were on houses in the under $600,000 range. There were few more expensive homes or commercial properties.

The figures for last year showed substantial declines in the median sales prices in several Island towns, notably the two with the biggest populations of lower income people and less expensive homes.

In Tisbury, the median price in 2009 was $450,000, compared with $555,000 the previous year, a sharp drop. In Oak Bluffs, the median fell from $489,000 to $405,000.

“Is that a sign that people are giving up their equity in lieu of foreclosure, just to get out of the house? It looks like it, and it’s translated to lower median sales,” Mr. Wells said.

It would look like very strong evidence indeed, if one considered only those towns. But the picture becomes more confused when you look at other towns.

The biggest fall in prices was in Chilmark, where the median dropped from $1.75 million to $1 million.

In contrast, Edgartown went up from $618,300 to $705,000, and West Tisbury went from $700,000 to $715,000

“I don’t have the latest Aquinnah figures,” Mr. Wells said, “but last time I checked, I believe it was up.

“I think it’s interesting that at a time when the real estate market might be considered slow, the median price in a number of Island towns increased last year. I’m not sure quite what it means, but it’s interesting,” he said.

Also interesting, and possibly encouraging, is the fact that the Vineyard appears to be lagging not only the country as a whole, but even the rest of Southeastern Massachusetts in foreclosures.

“I just looked at what was going on here in December,” said Mr. Wells, “and Dukes County had three petitions to foreclose. Look at Barnstable County, it’s a considerably higher number, even accounting for the higher number of towns.

“Dukes County consistently is one of the lower numbers. I see the space in the Gazette that’s dedicated to foreclosure notices, but when I compare it what I see in other papers, like the Cape papers, we’re still doing far better.”