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Faith Leaders to Make Urgent Call

Denise Rolark Barnes - WI Staff Writer | 12/2/2010, 8:27 a.m.

Faith leaders from around the country held an emergency summit in the District to organize a strategy to urge congressional lawmakers to pass a bill immediately that will strengthen and further protect homeowners from predatory lending practices.

The new bill in Congress - the American Community Investment Reform Act (HR-6344) - will extend the current laws to those lending institutions that helped to create the current housing crisis that contributed to thousands of homeowners facing foreclosure.

"This is the most critical civil rights issue of our time," the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson told a group of 50 ministers, faith leaders and representatives from nonprofits who gathered at Shiloh Baptist Church in Northwest on Mon., Nov. 22 to address the matter. Jackson was on hand to help galvanize a movement to help pass the bill that will expand the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA).

Since 1977, CRA has encouraged more banks and savings and loans to establish branches in underserved communities and it has helped to reduce credit practices that discriminate against low and moderate-income neighborhoods. The law, however, did not include independent housing lenders, such as Countrywide, whose predatory practices targeted African Americans and Latinos.

Jackson's Rainbow Push Coalition has partnered with the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) to push for passage of the new bill that will not only strengthen CRA, but it will also create jobs and capital in areas where the economic crisis has hit the hardest.
"CRA needs to be expanded right now," said John Taylor, NCRC president and CEO. If the bill does not pass, Taylor said, it will be harder to for small businesses to get lenders to invest and "it will be more difficult for low income and people of color to experience any type of recovery" from the current economic crisis, he said.

"We need safe, sound and fair lending," Taylor said.

Several ministers scattered throughout Shiloh's Family Life Center sat at round tables where they shared stories about members of their congregations who are facing foreclosure. Some of them also raised their hands when Rev. Jackson asked how many of them were also aware of churches facing foreclosure.

"Churches are like Black people," said Rev. Anthony Evans, president of the National Black Church Initiative. "They are embarrassed about the issue and they don't want to tell people what's going on." NCBI has organized several programs to assist local homeowners facing foreclosure.

"Community organizations and faith groups need to get together to address this bill in Congress that has not moved," Taylor said.

Taylor and Jackson criticized the Obama Administration for providing bailouts to the banks and auto industry that have done little to reinvest in Detroit and other cities that were devastated with foreclosures and high unemployment. They also raised the crisis among the nation's youths who are drowning in debt due to exorbitant student loans.

"The bailouts given to the banks and automobile industry have done little to help individuals who still blame themselves for their economic failures," Jackson said. He drew a line from a time when housing laws prevented Blacks from owning homes based on race to when they could only own homes in certain areas proscribed by laws called redlining, to "present day schemes that lack congressional oversight" that have resulted in massive foreclosures.

"Steering blacks to sub-prime loans is reverse redlining - paying more for less that will make you more likely to lose our homes," Jackson said.

The faith leaders are planning a letter writing campaign and visits to House and Senate leaders to urge them to pass bill HR 6334 before the legislative session ends next month.