With growing concern from City Council about the subprime-mortgage crisis sweeping the country, Sheriff John Green yesterday delayed next month's sale of homes in foreclosure.

Green said he will ask Common Pleas President Judge C. Darnell Jones for permission to halt sheriff's sales for six months.

This action comes as the number of sheriff's sales in the city has been steadily falling since the last moratorium four years ago. In March 2004, 588 homes were scheduled for auction in March. Last March, 478 homes were scheduled for sheriff's sales.

"We've had a continuous decrease through education and counseling" that allow homebuyers to avoid default, Green said.

But City Council members Marian Tasco and Curtis Jones warn of a looming threat, despite assurances at a public hearing last month from state officials that Pennsylvania and Philadelphia are weathering the subprime storm.

"One foreclosure is too much," said Tasco, who with Jones backed a Council resolution yesterday calling for the moratorium on sheriff's sales.

"Whether you have 300 or 200," she added. "There may be a decline, but the 200 has an impact on us just as much as the 300 would. Those 200 families would not have a home."

Subprime mortgages, with interest rates that can increase, are often issued to homebuyers with credit problems who cannot afford conventional mortgages.

Jones dismissed the state's assurances from last month as "deceptive," saying the real trouble is yet to come.

"In the next 18 months, the adjustable mortgages are about the reset," Jones said. "That's when we'll see some of the most devastating adjustments in monthly payments." *