Replete with Biblical allusion and allegory, the motif of good vs. evil and the prophets of earth and the Holy Book, leaders of a Northern Virginia interfaith group summoned higher powers Monday night to describe the 2008 foreclosure crisis and its aftermath.
Leaders of Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement also focused on how they could hold those who sinned — in their view, the major banks who engaged in subprime lending in low-income, minority communities in Prince William — accountable and seek to right past wrongs.
They asked the approximately 500 people assembled at Woodbridge Middle School from congregations all over the region whether they were ready for the fight. Each time, the audience answered: “We are ready!”
With bank executives, state officials and U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) attending, VOICE, a coalition of churches and other interfaith groups from across the region who have united around housing issues, formally announced an affordable housing pilot program. The group hopes the program can provide a model for even further future investment in a county that was one of the hardest hit by foreclosures in the state.
Two major financial institutions and a Virginia housing agency promised $30 million for the program, which would buy and renovate around 100 blighted townhomes and provide initial dollars to build or preserve at least 300 affordable rental units.
Bank of America committed $10 million in low-interest loans, while General Electric, the former owner of WMC Mortgage Corp., will invest $5 million. The Virginia Housing Development Authority plans to invest $15 million in the program. The long-term loans would be repaid through housing sales and rentals, and the program would be managed by area housing nonprofits.
Advocates plan to target the blighted areas of Dale City, Williamstown in Dumfries and Georgetown South in Manassas.
Leaders also focused Monday on what was missing — millions in requested funding from JPMorgan Chase, one of the biggest lenders on foreclosed properties during the recession in Prince William, according to VOICE. Without those funds, leaders worry the housing pilot program may not come to fruition.
“Let’s praise God for the great work that’s being done,” said the Rev. Dr. Keith Savage, pastor at First Baptist Church in Manassas. “Like anything else, until you get to the promised land, there is still more work to be done.”
JPMorgan has already obliged with several of VOICE’s demands, leaders said. The bank provided nearly $1 million in funding for area housing counselors over four years, and also forgave $25 million in principal and debt mortgage loans for around 250 homeowners in Prince William in the last year, according to VOICE and JPMorgan.
VOICE has asked JPMorgan for a $10 million low-interest, “non-recourse” loan it could repay over 20 years. The “non recourse” part of the loan is not traditional. If the deal went south, the bank would not necessarily be able to recoup its investment.
VOICE leaders say that GE’s dollars have been granted on the terms they are seeking from JPMorgan, and that the bank’s actions warrant a large investment.
Rebecca Mairone, a managing director at JPMorgan, sat on stage Monday but was not invited to speak.
JPMorgan has offered VOICE a more conventional loan of $5 million at 1 percent interest over 10 years, said Amy Bonitatibus, a JPMorgan spokeswoman. VOICE has rejected that offer. Those are the same terms, but half the dollar amount, that Bank of America offered for the pilot program.
Bonitatibus said those dollars were offered in addition to the other community work the bank has done in Prince William. “We continue to review additional ways we can invest in the community,” she said in an e-mail.
From a business perspective, buying up blighted townhomes on multiple sites can be a risky development strategy, said Martin Trimble, a VOICE organizer, and likely would require the organization to hold on to properties for years. A similar plan, Trimble said, is working in East Baltimore.
That’s why VOICE has asked JPMorgan for more dollars on better terms for nonprofits managing the investment. “We need that flexibility because what we’re doing is so ... unconventional,” Trimble said.
VOICE and JPMorgan have set a deadline of June 20 to come to terms. Savage said he believes that the two groups would do just that. No doubt, VOICE members will implore the bank. On Monday, Savage looked at Mairone when he said: “Justice too long delayed has been justice denied.”