Jesse Jackson, area black leaders blast banks on foreclosures

Rev. Jesse Jackson convenes a meeting of more than 100 religious leaders at the Ebenezer African Methodist Church.
By Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Rev. Jesse Jackson joined more than 100 African American community leaders Tuesday to plot strategy against the wave of foreclosures that has affected homes and houses of worship across the country.

After being bailed out by the government, many banks have repaid the Treasury Department and continue to conduct business as usual instead of offering help to people in danger of losing their homes, Jackson said.

"It was determined that if Wall Street collapsed, the entire economy would sink into the ocean," Jackson said. "It was the right thing to bail them out. It was the wrong thing for them to not link to reinvesting in America and . . . restructuring loans for homes, churches and students."

The meeting was held at Ebenezer AME Church in Fort Washington, where the Rev. Grainger Browning spoke of the battle that the 10,000-member congregation recently waged to save its sanctuary.

The church had never missed a mortgage payment, but its lender suddenly demanded that it keep $750,000 in reserve, Browning said. "We had to raise $500,000 in three months," he said.

Browning said he was told by bank officials that they had no choice but to take the action because of the economy. But he said the bank "stepped back" and gave the church more time to deal with the situation after Jackson interceded.

But Jackson said other churches and individuals were not given second chances by the same institutions that were provided billions of dollars in the government bailout.

With Prince George's County facing the largest number of home foreclosures of any county in Maryland, Seat Pleasant Mayor Eugene Grant said too much is at stake for people to do nothing.

"If the doors of the church are closed, then we have no place to go for inspiration and information," Grant said. " We are all in this boat together, and the boat is sinking."

In coming months, Jackson said, he will stage protests in front of several banks that he contended are not conducting business fairly. He said he also plans to write Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to urge him to more aggressively prosecute lenders that violate federal predatory lending laws.

When Jackson asked how many people in the room were facing foreclosure, about a dozen raised their hands. Kathryn H. Weaver, a Fort Washington business owner, was one.

"I have been going through a foreclosure arrangement for a year," she said. "I tried to get a forbearance agreement, and the payments were higher than my mortgage payments."

The Rev. H. Beecher Hicks Jr. of the District's Metropolitan Baptist Church said his church has outgrown its space but was forced to cease construction on its multimillion-dollar sanctuary in Largo because it could not secure additional loans.

"The church is the only institution that people of color own, lock stock and barrel, and the banks know that," Hicks said. "If they can take that away, we have a problem more serious than the economy."

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