Everybody knows that Minneapolis is the foreclosure capital of Hennepin County, right?

In absolute numbers, that's true. But not if you measure the foreclosure rate -- the percentage of households in foreclosure.

By that yardstick, three lightly populated communities along the Crow River in western Hennepin County are in the top tier for foreclosures. They're Greenfield and the Hennepin County portions of Rockford and Hanover. They join Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park for the county's top five cities in foreclosure rate. In fact, Greenfield and Brooklyn Park are tied for tops at 2.3 percent of households foreclosed in 2007.

"You're kidding!" Greenfield Mayor Jill Krout said when she got the news from a reporter on Wednesday. Her exurb had 20 foreclosures last year.

Minneapolis? It rates only sixth, at 1.8 percent, despite 2,895 foreclosures.

Those surprises in a recent round of data crunching from Hennepin County have to be taken with several grains of salt.

First, the portions of Hanover and Rockford lying on the Hennepin side of the Crow River are tiny, with fewer than 200 households apiece. So Hanover's three foreclosures and Rockford's four can push up their rate in a hurry. Greenfield is bigger; its situation is driven partly by one troubled townhouse development, said County Assessor Tom May.

Second, the county used the number of households in a city in 2006 to measure foreclosure rates, in order to stay consistent with statewide calculations. But there's another way if the goal is to measure homeowner pain, according to Metropolitan Council forecaster and demographer Todd Graham. That's the homestead unit count. Such a measure would exclude investors who borrowed to finance rental operations, or in some cases for fraudulent reasons.

Some who have seen the county's data assert that north Minneapolis would rank at the top of the foreclosure-rate list if it were its own municipality. But a lesser rate of foreclosures elsewhere in the city diluted its overall standing.

Jeff Strand, the county's lead person on foreclosure response, said he's not surprised by data showing North Side foreclosure issues spreading northwest into Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park, with 250 and 612 foreclosures respectively.

Robert Schreier, Brooklyn Park's community development director, said a variety of factors contribute to his suburb's high rank. The northern portion of the suburb was in a building boom that coincided with the use of riskier subprime mortgages that were a road to foreclosure for some borrowers.

"Our $500-$600,000 homes are in foreclosure as well. That's the stuff north of [Hwy.] 610," he said. There also were pockets of mortgage fraud in the boom area; he's submitted one builder's name to the FBI.

Some of the suburb's older, more affordable housing was involved as well. Schreier said some in the area's Liberian community may have been taken advantage of by brokers.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438