The failure of Maryland legislators to pass the Fair Foreclosure Act of 2015 during this legislative session is an injustice. In the wake of the recession, Prince George’s County’s housing values, once a source of wealth for the black middle class, have taken the hardest hit in the region. The county has become ground zero for a national foreclosure crisis on the rebound.
While housing prices and family wealth have mostly recovered in neighboring counties in the region, Prince George’s remains economically devastated.
What did homeowners in Prince George’s do wrong? Apparently their crime was “buying while black” in pursuit of the American Dream. It has been well documented that a disproportionate amount of predatory lending in African American neighborhoods, regardless of class, accounts for the disproportionate number of foreclosures and lagging home prices in majority-minority communities. According to a recent study, 14 percent of African American homeowners are underwater on their mortgages compared with almost 6 percent of white homeowners.
My parishioners who are in foreclosure or significantly underwater in their home values say they did everything right. They are educated professionals in financial ruin, trying to stay in their homes. Despite high incomes and advanced degrees, many were targeted by banks with unscrupulous financial practices, and they now find themselves in foreclosure with no relief in sight.
Preventing legislators from addressing this crisis is the false idea that the real estate crisis was caused by deadbeat homeowners or those who took out mortgages they could not afford. Nothing could be further from the truth. This propaganda was advanced by the true culprits of the crisis.
What is occurring in counties such as Prince George’s is morally wrong.
As a nation, we bailed out the banks that caused and engineered the global financial crisis by turning the housing market into a casino. We bailed out the insurance companies that insured the subprime mortgages. Institutional investors have won lawsuits against the banks that sold them fraudulent mortgage-backed securities. Many players in the real estate debacle have been made whole. Not the homeowners.
The Fair Foreclosure Act of 2015 would have offered much-needed relief and consumer protections to Maryland families facing foreclosure and corrected the underlying business practices of mortgage lenders that caused the crisis. Rather than prioritizing the needs of the public, Maryland state legislators chose, again, to protect the banking industry.
The failure to protect property values by addressing the foreclosure crisis comes ironically at the same time state and county officials are proposing to raise property taxes in Prince George’s by 15 percent.
The long journey toward economic parity for African Americans is being undermined by the failure of Maryland legislators to put the people first.
It is a tale of the enduring legacy of racism and the undue influence of money in politics. We cannot and should not grow as a region at the expense of the most vulnerable among us. We must stop the bleeding by instituting policies that help Maryland families protect their wealth and save their homes.
The writer is president of the Black Church Center for Justice and Equality and senior pastor of Mount Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton.
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