“That house has been vacant now at least 9 months,” Cummings said, nodding across the street toward another home, its windows boarded shut. The owner lost his job and no longer could afford the payments, he said. “He was a good guy.”
“This house here was in foreclosure,” Cummings said, pointing farther down the block. “I understand someone just bought it for a song and a dance.”
Every community in the country has felt the sting of the housing bust, which has stretched into its sixth year. But in Cummings’s sprawling district — mostly urban, mostly African American, largely working- and middle-class — the foreclosure wave hit particularly hard.
In recent years, Cummings has dedicated a substantial amount of time and energy — and outrage — trying to force changes he says would help stem the ripple effects of the foreclosure epidemic, particularly on minority communities that have suffered disproportionately from the fallout.
Earlier this month, he held the seventh foreclosure-prevention workshop in his district. The events bring bank representatives together with struggling borrowers hoping to modify their loans and remain in their homes.
In Washington, where he is the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Cummings has become one of Capitol Hill’s most outspoken lawmakers on the need for more government aid to troubled homeowners.
He has also emerged as a fervent critic of Edward J. DeMarco, the chief regulator of government-backed mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, who has resisted proposals that the two firms reduce the amount certain borrowers owe on their mortgages.
Cummings has backed efforts, some more successful than others, to investigate mortgage-related abuses by banks and lenders, to expand foreclosure protections for U.S. servicemembers and their families and to make it easier for some homeowners to refinance their loans at lower interest rates. He has even done something he rarely does on other topics: criticize the Obama administration, saying it hasn’t done enough to help those in need.
When Cummings speaks about the foreclosure crisis, he talks of children displaced and neighborhoods destabilized, of lost pride and lowered expectations, of vanishing wealth, of anxious borrowers jolting awake at 4 a.m. with worries of how to make ends meet.
“A lot of people say, let them be foreclosed upon because you are holding off the inevitable,” Cummings said. “I don’t see these folks who are losing their houses as some kind of collateral damage. This is usually their biggest investment in life. This is where they raise their family . . . The people that come to me, they don’t want a handout, they just want to be able to get through this storm.”