Interfaith group seeks help from banks in housing crisis

Members from more than 40 religious institutions across Northern Virginia are asking some of the country’s largest banks to commit to helping rebuild neighborhoods that have been devastated by housing foreclosures.

Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement (VOICE) drew a crowd of about 900 congregants, political leaders and representatives of two major financial institutions — Bank of America and J.P. Morgan Chase — to Freedom High School in Woodbridge on Sunday to discuss the issue.

Leaders of the two-year-old interfaith group — representing every major religion — say they hope that pressure on banks from area congregations helps struggling homeowners and assists in rebuilding neighborhoods.

Venus Miller, a VOICE leader who attends Mount Olive Baptist Church in Woodbridge, said she hopes the banks agree to help because it is the right thing to do. “But wouldn’t that be great to put the fear of God in them?”

Bank of America, one of the area’s largest lenders and mortgage holders, agreed to the group’s request that banks finance housing counselors, who would negotiate for modified mortgage payments on behalf of homeowners. Kenneth Wade, a Bank of America executive, told the gathering that the bank would dedicate $216,000 to pay for three housing counselors for Prince William County.

Wade said the bank is “looking forward to working with” the leaders on the group’s other request that the financial institutions commit between $300 million and $500 million to refinance underwater mortgages, build affordable housing and rebuild home ownership.

Just less than half of all homes are “underwater” in Prince William — meaning that borrowers owe more than their homes are worth, according to CoreLogic, which researches and analyzes real estate trends. Thousands of homeowners are behind on payments, meaning those homes could be headed for foreclosure.

Jerry McCoy, a J.P. Morgan Chase vice president, said his company would hold a mortgage refinancing event in late November.

VOICE’s leader, the Rev. Clyde Ellis, said that despite the commitments there is still much work to be done. “We get a reaction because we’re willing to agitate organized money,” he said.

Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), who attended the meeting, said he would try to engage other banks and the Obama administration in working with VOICE.

The White House rolled out a new proposal last week that would help underwater mortgage holders pay less monthly, but Warner said that program may help just a fraction of those who want and need help.

Tamara Williams, a homeowner who attended the event, said she fought with her mortgage company for two years, eventually getting an agreement with then-Countrywide Financial to modify her payments. But making her payments on time at the reduced rate soon landed her in hot water — the bank told her she no longer qualified for the refinancing program and began to foreclose.

In April, she filed for bankruptcy and has been able to stay in her home. Williams said she showed up Sunday to hold banks accountable.

“Pushed to the limit, you have to take some action,” she said.

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Comment by Rev. Linda Olson Peebles on November 1, 2011 at 9:50am
Severe Foreclosures Bring Politicians, Bank of America & JPMorgan Execs to Northern VA


Woodbridge, VA – On Sunday afternoon October 30th the Auditorium of Freedom High School had standing room only with over 900 citizens crammed in, pressing to hold big banks accountable to helping families struggling with the housing crisis in the Prince William area. African Americans and Caucasians, Muslims and Catholics, all were members of VOICE (Virginians Organize for Interfaith Community Engagement) a coalition of 42 religious congregations and civic organizations in Northern VA.
The action was a part of VOICE’s campaign, launched in April 2011, to hold big financial institutions accountable for their role in the foreclosure debacle in Prince William County, Manassas, and Manassas Park, Virginia.
Prince William County and the associated jurisdictions of Manassas City and Manassas Park were the epicenter of Virginia’s foreclosure crisis. In the last five years the area has seen over 16,000 foreclosures with some neighborhoods experiencing foreclosure rates up to 33%, prompting a Time Magazine story earlier this month. VOICE’s primary focus for accountability is on specific companies that had disproportionate impacts on the county: GE/WMC Mortgage, Bank of America/Countrywide, and JP Morgan Chase/Bear Stearns/Long Beach Mortgage, which made the largest number of predatory loans and had the highest foreclosure rates in Prince William County, Manassas, and Manassas Park. For example, GE’s subsidiary, WMC Mortgage, made at least $600 million in high cost, sub-prime loans in Prince William County from 2005—2008. At least 89.9% of these loans went to minority borrowers, primarily Latinos and recent immigrants, and 17%+ went into foreclosure.

Adding significant weight to VOICE’s campaign, Senator Warner (D-VA) spoke at the gathering and other elected officials attended. Ken Wade, an executive from Bank of America, and Jerry McCoy, VP from JPMorgan Chase also spoke. Prince William area residents spoke about the devastation to their families and communities from foreclosure.

VOICE is demanding that the 3 targeted financial institutions:
  • Fix the Broken Mortgage Modification Process which prevents even homeowners who are eligible from getting needed mortgage

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