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WASHINGTON, March 22 (Reuters) - U.S. presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama called on Thursday for top economic policy-makers to convene a conference to help homeowners avoid losing their homes amid a wave of foreclosures.
Obama, an Illinois Democrat, urged Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to bring together lenders, consumer advocates, federal regulators and housing agencies for a summit meeting on preserving home ownership.
Foreclosure rates soared among subprime borrowers, those with blemished credit, at the end of 2006 as adjustable rate mortgages reset at higher levels and home values moderated or fell after a five-year U.S. housing boom.
"We cannot sit on the sidelines while increasing numbers of Americans lose their homes," Obama said in a letter to Bernanke and Paulson.
An estimated 1.5 million homeowners are expected to face foreclosure in 2007, a 20 percent to 25 percent increase over last year, according to research firm RealtyTrac.
Obama believes the government's oversight agencies were too slow to respond to an overheating housing market, an aide said.
"Regulators are partly responsible for creating the environment that is leading to rising rates of foreclosure in the subprime market," the Illinois lawmaker said.