ATLANTA - Atlanta-area residents facing foreclosure joined community groups, clergy and labor and government leaders to demand that big banks like Wells Fargo/ Wachovia reform their policies and protect homeowners currently facing foreclosure. At a hearing at First Iconium Baptist Church, Atlanta-area residents losing their homes detailed the big banks' role in the foreclosure crisis. They told stories of its impact on their families and communities. Participants pointed to lending practices of the big banks and decried their targeting of minority communities. The hearing was sponsored by the Atlanta Fighting Foreclosure Coalition and the 11.5 million-member AFL-CIO.
Gloria Sims, a 74-year-old retiree, testified that a big bank gave her and her husband an adjustable rate mortgage they cannot repay on their fixed retirement income.
Another participant, Therese Bowen, said after she was given two subprime loans her first mortgage payment jumped from $800 a month to $1,200. Bowen is now facing eviction.
"Wells Fargo bought my house at foreclosure for $34,000, yet they would not allow me to stay in the home and get a loan modification, even though I have a good income and I could afford to catch up on the missed payments if they would let me," said Bowen. "Instead they are evicting me from my home, and it will likely sit empty for two years and be one more boarded up house in the neighborhood."
"Foreclosure is not an equal opportunity tragedy," said AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker, a member of a panel of leaders who heard the testimony. "People of color are disproportionately hurt in part because we're also disproportionately likely to have lost our jobs. But an even uglier factor is that we have been targeted—chosen—for the dangerous lending practices by big banks almost guaranteed to result in disaster."
Coalition participants also issued a list of demands to Wells Fargo/Wachovia:
1. Improve participation in the federal Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) program to achieve a 100 percent loan modification goal.
2. Reduce principal balances, reduce interest rates and make home loans affordable.
3. Protect tenants in foreclosed homes.
4. Stop high-interest short-term lending. Although not available in Georgia, Wells Fargo's Direct Deposit Advance program charges fees equivalent to about a 120 percent annual percentage rate.
5. Expand low-interest lending to meet the crucial need for affordable and accessible credit in poor and minority communities:
Other panelists at the hearing were Rev. Timothy McDonald, First Iconium Baptist Church; Charlie Flemming, President, Atlanta–North Georgia AFL-CIO; Barbara Easterling, President, Alliance for Retired Americans; Vincent Fort, Georgia State Senator and John Eaves, Chairman, Fulton County Board of Commissioners.
After the hearing, participants headed to the Wells Fargo/Wachovia downtown branch in Atlanta for a rally and a meeting with bank executives to discuss the communities' demands. Hundreds of local residents joined together outside the bank to call on Wells Fargo/Wachovia to stem foreclosures by modifying mortgages in suffering communities to make their voices heard to bank executives they feel have not done enough to remedy this crisis.