Prince George's County Leaders Support Anti-Foreclosure Bill

James Wright | 3/18/2010, 9:26 a.m.

Maryland Leads the Nation in Foreclosure Rates

Political and religious leaders in Prince George's County recently endorsed a bill in the Maryland House of Delegates that will force lenders to meet with homeowners on the brink of losing their houses and devise a plan so that residents can stay in their homes.

"If a bank can pick up the phone and get a person in a home, then the bank can pick up the phone and keep a person in their home," Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, said.

Brown, the keynote speaker during a press conference called by the politically savvy congregation of Ebenezer A.M.E. Church in Fort Washington, Md., received a rousing hand of applause along with a bill that would ensure homeowners get a fair shake.

The bill, H.B. 472, would require that financial institutions and mortgage companies afford homeowners in danger of losing their homes and opportunity to meet with lenders and discuss ways to modify the loan within a 45-day period.

The bill would also require the holders of the mortgage to provide a foreclosure timeline to the homeowner. Other points contained within the bill include judicial consideration of whether a modified agreement is fair to the homeowner and should a judge rule against the lender, the mortgage holder would be required to work out a reasonable payment plan for the homeowner.

The O'Malley-Brown administration has sent the bill to the House for consideration. Brown urged those who attended the press conference, Mon., March 15 to call their legislators and urge them to support the bill. The bill is being strongly considered as the number of foreclosures continues to escalate in Maryland in general and Prince George's County in particular. In February, there were nearly 1,800 foreclosure filings, about one-third of such actions in the state, according to RealtyTrac, which monitors foreclosure filings nationally.

The county's filings last month indicated a 71 percent increase from February 2009 and as a result, Maryland has the 10th-worst mortgage rate in the country.

Ebenezer, one of the largest churches in the Washington, D.C. area with 12,000 members and 100 ministries, has a number of its parishioners in the foreclosure process, said co-pastor the Rev. Grainger Browning.

€Many people were too embarrassed to talk about their foreclosure situation but we saw the need for it,€ Browning said.

€When we created the ministry to deal with it, people started coming forward.€

Economists have noted that when the housing crisis developed in 2007, the main reason pointed to the abundance and abuse of exotic or creative mortgages that people were not able to maintain.

However, Brown said that it is now the conventional mortgages that are increasingly going into foreclosure.

"Families are hurting in this economy," he said.

"Businesses and government are hurting. People are losing their homes and losing their jobs and everyone is affected."

Vicky Edmister, who purchased her Temple Hills, Md. home with a €designer mortgage,€ nearly lost it to foreclosure. Photo by Maurice Fitzgerald
For example, Vicki Edmister epitomizes the severity of the situation that plagues Prince George€s County. The U.S. postal worker signed a creative mortgage contract without a full understanding of what it entailed.

Help arrived in the nick of time for Edmister.

"I was unable to refinance my loan and I was very close to losing my house," Edmister, 41, said with tears in her eyes.

"The state's Bridge to Hope program helped me out and I have been able to stay in my home," she said.

Raymond Skinner, Maryland's secretary of Housing and Community Development, said that the reluctance of banks to help residents out of foreclosure was the reason the administration got involved three years ago and created safety nets like the Bridge to Hope Emergency Loan Program.

Today, the program that currently assists residents, Skinner said, is the Maryland HOPE Hotline, a free service that links struggling homeowners to non-profit organizations for housing counseling and legal services.

"Far too many families are feeling the economic assault," Skinner said.

Since 2007, Maryland officials have sponsored 100 events for residents in foreclosure or those on the verge of losing their homes during the worse economic downturn since the Great Depression. To date, approximately 30,000 homeowners have attended the state sponsored events.

Prince George's County Councilman Tony Knotts (D-Council District 8) said that the anti-foreclosure bill would be a boon for the county.

"Any piece of legislation that would ensure neighborhood stability is welcome," Knotts, a candidate for the Democratic Party nomination for County Executive, said.

"The cascading effects of the bill would be tremendous and will benefit the whole county."