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Calls for Foreclosure Moratorium Intensify

Joshua Garner | 2/26/2014, 3 p.m.
Carmen Johnson (right) of the Prince George's County NAACP joined Delegate Aisha Braveboy at the state capital in Annapolis on Feb. 24 to rally for a moratorium on foreclosures in Maryland. Photo by Joshua Garner

A consortium of community and civil rights groups are pressuring Maryland legislators to commit to a six month moratorium on foreclosures in the state amid concerns of irregularities in the proceedings.

Members of the Maryland NAACP, CASA de Maryland, and the Maryland Black Caucus joined other community groups on the steps of the state capital in Annapolis to rally for housing and wage issues while calling on legislators to pass laws regulating foreclosure proceedings.

"We are united here today. We are fighting together," Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA de Maryland, belted out from the podium to a crowd of more than 200 people. "Yes, we can!"

The NAACP, including the Prince George’s County Branch, has been pressing elected leaders and the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) to intervene in the increased number of foreclosures occurring in the state over the last year.

The foreclosure rate in Maryland has steadily risen in recent months. According to the DHCD, the state has the second highest foreclosure rate in the nation at the close of 2013, which is an increase from the third quarter of the same year. Within the state, Prince George’s County and Baltimore City have the highest foreclosure rates, according to the DHCD.

"We are in [a] crisis," said

Carmen Johnson, housing chair of the Prince George’s County Branch of the NAACP. "We have been bamboozled. We must save our families … our homes."

Community leaders said foreclosures in the state overwhelming affect minority communities, sapping property values and wealth from families who have built equity in their homes.

"It becomes a huge problem for communities," said Del. Aisha Braveboy (D-Dist. 25), who spoke at the rally.

Braveboy joined state Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Dist. 24) of Fort Washington in introducing legislation in the General Assembly that would put more restrictions on banks during the foreclosure process and on how banks maintain foreclosed properties.

"The [legislation] will hold the banks accountable and prevent the artificial depreciations of home values in our state," she said.

Braveboy said oftentimes, banks purchase mortgages from other lenders without acquiring proper paperwork or verification. Some banks start the foreclosure process without verifying that it owns a property’s mortgage

"There have been some concerns that banks purchase mortgage documents … they may not have the original [mortgage note]," Braveboy said.

Braveboy introduced HB1322, legislation that calls for a six-month moratorium on foreclosures — a measure that NAACP officials said is long overdue.

Johnson said that foreclosures are impacting middle-class families who could afford their homes when they were purchased. She said the NAACP has seen an uptick in calls from homeowners from all races who are trying to stop their homes being foreclosed.

"These are middle-class or even upper-middle-class people," she said. "We’ve been brainwashed into thinking it was blacks and Hispanics running out buying homes they couldn’t afford."

Johnson said that the NAACP is asking the state to have an independent organization audit foreclosure proceedings to ensure fairness during the process.

"Even Stevie Wonder can see we have a problem with foreclosures in this state," she said.

But state officials said they may have their hands tied in intervening between the rights of private banks and their ability to govern contracts related to foreclosures — even if the state legislature passes a law allowing a moratorium.

"The state doesn’t have any authority to stop private banks from enforcing their contracts," said Allen Brody, spokesman for the Maryland Attorney General’s Office. "We’re all interested in protecting the rights of the people … the right to own property and maintain their homes."