Martin Luther King’s Dream of Economic Justice is in Danger, Advocates Say
OAKLAND – In the wake of new reports indicating record foreclosures last year and a further increase expected in 2011, elected officials and nonprofit leaders joined homeowners today to call for an urgent program to stem the tide of foreclosures and reduce the principal of troubled mortgages. They spoke at a protest and press conference this afternoon in front of the Alameda County Superior Court building where foreclosed homes are auctioned off. They warned that the millions of foreclosures that are imminent will devastate neighborhoods, with communities of color suffering the most.
“As Representative of the 9th Congressional District – one of the areas hardest hit by foreclosures – I have seen a great deal of suffering as thousands of homeowners lose their homes to foreclosure,” Congresswoman Barbara Lee said in a statement read at the protest. “It is imperative that we do whatever we can to help people remain in their homes and keep families and communities stable and intact.
“Martin Luther King Jr. understood that civil rights can’t be separated from economic justice. So as we celebrate his birthday, we all need to rededicate ourselves to that proposition. We need to protect consumers from predatory lenders, and we need effective loan modification programs that will help responsible, hard-working Americans remain in their homes.”
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Berkeley homeowner and award-winning independent filmmaker Jed Riffe told of his struggle to keep his home. “We were doing fine until my wife Tina was laid off in November 2008,” Riffe said. “But with our income cut by more than half we’ve burned through most of our savings in order to keep up the payments. We’ve asked for a loan modification, but keep getting turned down because Tina’s unemployed, and with her unemployment about to run out, we’re nearly out of options. We’ve done everything we can to be responsible borrowers, but we need help now, and I know there are millions like us.”
Advocates led by The Greenlining Institute proposed a four-point plan for emergency relief:
1) Make principal reduction the hallmark of loan modifications for homeowners who are in danger of foreclosure, and make such modifications available to all who need them.
2) Ensure that any borrower who is in the middle of a loan modification will not receive a foreclosure notice while that modification is pending.
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3) Increase support for resource-strapped, community-based foreclosure prevention counselors to ensure that such assistance is available for all who need it.
4) Ensure that utilities will not be shut off for tenants renting units in buildings that are being foreclosed.
“Millions of Americans are in danger of losing their homes, either because they’ve been hit hard by the recession or because they were misled by predatory lenders,” said Greenlining Institute Community Reinvestment Director Preeti Vissa. “African-American, Hispanic and Asian homeowners represent two thirds of foreclosures in California, and entire communities are in danger. This is a fixable problem, but time is running out – and we’ll all be hurt if nothing is done.”
Other speakers included Oakland City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, Assemblyman Mike Davis (D-Los Angeles), FAME Corporations President and Chief Operating Officer Denise Hunter, and Fred Villasenor, executive director of the Community Child Care Council of Santa Clara.
The event concluded with a mock auction of Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein’s $26 million Manhattan condo. Although speculation and dubious financial practices played a major role in tanking the economy, Blankfein is not believed to be in actual danger of foreclosure.