Taking on the banks over foreclosures

Members of faith-based community groups are targeting three of the country’s biggest banks this month for what they consider is the banks’ lack of response to homeowner requests to modify mortgage payment plans.

In particular, the groups — under the New Bottom Line campaign initiated by the PICO National Network — are planning to send representatives to shareholder meetings today at Wells Fargo Bank in San Francisco, May 11 at Bank of America in Charlotte, N.C., and May 17 at JPMorgan Chase in Columbus, Ohio.

Domingo Delgallado, a board member of Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organizing and a parishioner at Holy Rosary Church in Contra Costa, Calif., told Catholic News Service that the representatives plan to ask bank officials again about their foreclosure policies and urge them to move more quickly to help troubled homeowners.

The groups also want banks to pay their fair share of taxes, especially by paying back taxes, and to stop sending jobs overseas.

“The government gave them all this money to bail them out and they’re not using it to help the American economy or the consumer,” Delgallado said, referring to the Troubled Asset Relief Program that helped keep numerous banks from closing during the depth of the recent recession.

PICO’s strategy calls for selected members of local groups to attend shareholder meetings after obtaining proxy statements from sympathetic shareholders to press their case. Coincidentally, demonstrations are planned outside each bank’s offices.

“(Demonstrating) seems to be the only way to get their attention,” said Delgallado, a financial analyst for a central California oil and gas company. “We tried contacting them to set up meetings in order to come up with a process that would be more effective and beneficial for homeowners.

“They’re willing to foreclose on someone’s house and take a write-off and sell the loan to someone else, but they won’t work with people until their situation gets better. They (the banks) created the economic crisis and they’re still profiting from it. It’s not fair,” he said.

The demonstrations will revolve around prayer and Scripture, Delgallado explained.

For their part, the banks have initiated efforts to help struggling homeowners.

At JPMorgan Chase, its Homeownership Preservation Office has opened more than 50 centers to help people save their homes in some of the most depressed housing markets nationwide.

Bank of America, which acquired Countrywide Home Loans, once the country’s largest mortgage lender,  estimated that eventually up to 400,000 former Countrywide customers will be helped.

Wells Fargo runs home preservation workshops nationwide.

Still, PICO members claim that such efforts are insufficient to meet the need. The nationwide organizing network estimates that the federal government’s foreclosure prevention program has helped only 285,000 of the 5 million families who have lost their homes.

“It’s an economic crisis,” Delgallado said. “And it’s a moral issue.”

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