The Philadelphia metropolitan area saw first-quarter foreclosure filings soar by nearly 33 percent over levels for the same period last year, RealtyTrac, which monitors such activity nationwide, reported Thursday.

The total number of filings, 8,582, includes default, auctions and bank-owned repossessions in the city and its seven suburban counties, as well as in New Castle County, Del.; Cumberland and Salem Counties in New Jersey, and Cecil County, Md.

Of those filings, 1,189 were repossessions of houses by lenders and institutions such as Fannie Mae, RealtyTrac said.

There were 4,371 new foreclosure filings (default notices) and 2,322 auction notices, RealtyTrac said. One in 289 homes in the region had a foreclosure filing during the first quarter, a level that was still lower than the national average of one for every 230 units.

Filings rose 30 percent from the fourth quarter of 2011, RealtyTrac reported.

The Philadelphia metro area was not the only one to see an increase in first-quarter filings. RealtyTrac said filings rose from fourth-quarter levels in 114 of 212 metro areas with populations exceeding 200,000, and in 26 of the 50 largest — including New York, Indianapolis, Raleigh, N.C., and Virginia Beach, Va.

Pittsburgh experienced the largest national increase, 49 percent. Reading's filings rose almost 27 percent in the same period, while the Allentown-Easton-Bethlehem area was up 9 percent.

Filings had begun to increase in Philadelphia and other metro areas even before the nation's five largest lenders reached a $25 billion settlement with 49 state attorneys-general in February on questionable foreclosure-processing practices known as robo-signing. Many lenders had delayed processing foreclosures for more than a year until matters were settled.

RealtyTrac chief executive officer Brandon Moore called the first-quarter increases "an early sign that long-dormant foreclosures are coming out of hibernation in many local markets."

Some observers attributed the increased filings in Philadelphia and other Pennsylvania cities to the end of the state's Home Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program, which had averted foreclosure for 46,000 unemployed homeowners since 1983.

Federal funding that kept the program going after no state money for it was allocated in the 2011 and 2012 budgets ran out Sept. 30.

In addition, the Act 91 notice lenders had to send delinquent borrowers, giving them 30 days to consider options including credit counseling and HEMAP, is no longer required.

"Without the Act 91 notice, fewer people are coming to us," said Patricia Hasson, president of Clarifi, which provides foreclosure counseling to Pennsylvania and New Jersey residents.

The money HEMAP provided for counseling also is no longer available; renewed federal funding is awaited, Hasson said. Advocates have been seeking some of the state's $69 million share of the settlement for HEMAP and counseling.

Hasson and Philadelphia Unemployment Project executive director John Dodds were among a group, including representatives of the Catholic Conference and the AFL-CIO, that met Tuesday in Harrisburg with state Attorney General Linda Kelly, who will oversee spending the money.

"Everyone felt very positive after the meeting," Dodds said.

Contact Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472, or@alheavens at Twitter.