ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Two of the state’s largest civil rights groups gathered in Annapolis this week to lobby for issues they want made priority during the 2014 General Assembly session.
CASA de Maryland, the state’s largest immigrant rights group, and the Maryland State Conference of the NAACP rallied alongside about 200 attendees on the steps of the State House on Monday for, among other issues, an emergency freeze on home foreclosures. At a town hall meeting of Prince George’s County residents before the rally, Patrice Cook Johnson told the story of her years-long foreclosure.
“My house is currently in foreclosure and it should not be in foreclosure,” said Cook Johnson. “I never defaulted on a loan.”
Cook Johnson, who initially sought a modification on her Annapolis home in 2007, has since had her mortgage sold to three different banks. Even after filing for bankruptcy to pay off the mortgage, she said her home was still foreclosed on. After years of battling the banks and never having defaulted once, Cook Johnson finally went to the NAACP last November for help.
“I am fighting for my home because my home was passed down to me from my ancestors and I want to pass it down to my children and my grandchildren,” said Cook Johnson, who worries about the people who – unlike her – cannot actually pay their mortgages.
At the close of 2013, a report from the state Department of Housing and Community Development showed Maryland had the third-highest home foreclosure rate in the nation. According to RealtyTrac, that rate continued to climb in January. The stats also showed Prince George’s County had the largest number of foreclosures in the state in 2013, with a total of over 6,000 foreclosure filings and over 2,200 actual foreclosures.
Legislation that’s been proposed in the General Assembly seeks to put an emergency six-month freeze on all home foreclosures in the state. It also aims to bring in a third-party verifier to look at foreclosure cases already in the pipeline and headed to court. Democratic Sen. Anthony Muse, of Prince George’s County, is sponsoring the Senate version of the moratorium bill (SB755), which gets its first hearing on March 5. He said wants an overhaul of the mediation process as well as for victims of illegal foreclosures to be remedied.
“I think the Attorney’s General’s office…should be the one that looks at the violations from the Justice Department, apply those violations to the banks that had been operating here in an illegal way,” said Muse. “And the billions of dollars that have been released [by the banks] should be paid as a remedy to victims…in a way that’s manageable.”
Muse, who said there is a lot of support for the legislation, also wants to make sure tax dollars released by the federal government that came out of the pockets of the victims of illegal foreclosures come back to the people. The House version of the foreclosure moratorium bill (HB1322) will have its first hearing on Thursday. It is sponsored by Delegate Aisha Braveboy, also a Democrat of Prince George’s County.
State Housing officials say the high level of foreclosures in the recent months is due to a large backlog of delinquent loans that developed “due to servicing issues in 2011 and 2012”. A statement from the office of Housing Secretary Raymond Skinner says the state’s prevention infrastructure established early in the housing crisis has actually helped make Maryland extremely effective in combating foreclosure.
“In fact, our actions have been among the most aggressive in the nation, delivering real results to tens of thousands of Maryland families who might otherwise have lost their homes in the fast-track foreclosure process that previously existed,” said the statement, which points out Maryland franks fifth in the nation for the number of loan modifications through the Obama Administration’s Home Affordable Modification Program and among the national leaders in the Home Affordable Refinance Program.
“We continue striving to assist as many homeowners as possible and believe that delivering assistance in the form of counseling and legal resources to ensure that each consumer’s right are protect is the best course of action at this time,” the statement said.
At the Rally for Justice in Lawyers Mall, Housing Chair for the Maryland Conference of the NAACP Carmen Johnson faced an excited group of attendees waiting signs and chanting as she called upon everyone to support the foreclosure moratorium.
“We need every race, every race – Black, White, Hispanic, Jewish, Italian – every last one of you to fight for our country,” said Johnson. “We must save our homes, we must save our homes…we cannot allow this to happen.”
Other dignitaries at the rally included members of the Maryland Black Caucus, Presidents of the state’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Maryland State Conference NAACP President Gerald Stansbury and CASA de Maryland Executive Director Gustavo Torres. The keynote address was given by former NAACP president and CEO Ben Jealous.
In addition to a moratorium on home foreclosures, the groups were also rallying in support for raise in the minimum wage, The Maryland Law Enforcement TRUST Act and equality for the state’s HBCUs.