With twice as much unemployment and sub-prime loans continuing to spiral mortgage payments up, home foreclosures are spreading like wildfires in communities of color. But, homeowners aren’t the only ones being impacted: Renters face eviction when landlords have their properties foreclosed.
The Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder and KFAI Community Radio are presenting a forum of diverse panelists with solutions to the foreclosure crisis and new legislation protecting people’s rights on September 19 at Sabathani Community Center in Minneapolis. The MSR interviewed four of the panelists for this article.
“There’s a big difference between wanting to move and being uprooted,” says Richard Amos, director of housing at St. Stephen’s Human Services. “Landlords took out or refinanced loans, then decide it’s not worth it to pay the mortgage. Neighborhoods gentrifying means rents going up. Foreclosures mean families renting ended up in shelters.”
For example, on St. Paul’s East Side, 50 to 60 percent of foreclosures were on “investor properties,” displacing renters who now compete with evicted homeowners for apartments.
A coalition of many of the community organizations represented at the September 19 forum worked to pass the 2008 postponement bill in the Minnesota State Legislature that mandates homeowners have six months to live in the home without payment after foreclosure proceedings have concluded. With the six months it generally takes for a bank to go through the full process to foreclose, that means a year without mortgage payments for transition.
“If anyone is in foreclosure, knowing what their rights are and what the process is helps,” says Cheryl Peterson, who has done Mortgage Foreclosure Prevention with the Twin Cities chapter of Habitat for Humanity since 1993. “There’s now a six-month redemption period where you can continue to live in the property, so that allows more time to save money.”
ACORN Housing, a spin-off of the well-known community organization, hosts workshops for first-time homebuyers with real estate agents, lenders and ACORN Housing counselors. Executive Director Marcus Mayes says helping homeowners facing foreclosure is another key aim.
“Our services are totally free. If someone wants you to pay money for loan modification counseling, that’s a scam,” Mayes emphasizes. “They’ll get $4,000 from you just to enter your information into our ACORN Housing database. Our clients don’t pay a dollar, and we do 90 percent of our foreclosure counseling over the phone.” He recommends their website: www.acornhousinghelp.org.
Although eligible for stable, lower-interest loans, many were tricked into the sub-prime loans, with initially low interest that jumps later – sophisticated predatory lending. African American and Latino homebuyers were twice as likely as Whites to be steered into sub-prime loans; women were 30 percent more likely than men to be targeted, with Black women five times more likely than White men. Some landlord/investors also took on predatory loans resulting in renters being evicted even though they paid their rent.
National legislation addressing predatory lending is stalled in the House of Representatives. Some of the same groups opposed to healthcare reform – like FreedomWorks, which disrupted August town halls – are fighting regulations that would prevent repeating the current foreclosure crisis.
However, some states are responding. A coalition of community, consumer and housing groups worked to pass the 2008 Minnesota Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act. The bills’ protections will be explained at the forum.
Activists are challenging powerful special interests: picketing banks that got bailed out with billions yet refuse to modify homeowners’ loans, demanding lawmakers respond to communities’ economic distress, and resisting evictions.
“Everyone in foreclosure ought to have an honest and fair chance to stay in their homes,” declares longtime activist Linden Gowboy of the Minnesota Coalition for a People’s Bailout.
“We see three steps that need to be taken: Fix the banking mess. Until that’s fixed, we need a moratorium on foreclosures. Stay in your home – it’s your only leverage,” she explains. “This isn’t a finances game – it’s a home game.”
Ed Nelson of Homeownership Center and Cheryl Rice of the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency complete the forum’s panel.
This forum is part of a KFAI series of special programs, “Strive to Thrive,” broadcasting in September and October. KFAI is 90.3 FM in Minneapolis and 106.7 FM in St. Paul.
The “Facing Challenges, Creating Solutions: Housing and Mortgage Foreclosures Forum” will be held Saturday, September 19, 9:30 am – 4 pm, at Sabathani Community Center, 310 East 38th St., Minneapolis. The forum is free and open to public; to get a free lunch you must make reservations by Sept. 17 at 612-341-3144 ext. 33 or www.kfai.org.
Lydia Howell is an independent journalist who hosts Catalyst: politics & culture Fridays at 11 am on KFAI.
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