Members of Maryland NAACP chapters, including representatives of the Prince George’s chapter, converged on the Maryland statehouse Feb. 24 to urge Gov. Martin J. O’Malley and statewide legislators to place a moratorium on foreclosures until a top-to-bottom investigation is conducted into practices that are leading thousands of homeowners to lose their property.
About 15 members of the Prince George’s County chapter of the NAACP, volunteers and homeowners traveled to Annapolis on a bus together. There, they met with the Rev. Lennox Abrigo of the D.C. National Action Network and NAACP and NAACP officials from the Maryland state chapter.
In a meeting in a third floor hearing room, the volunteers and homeowners met with members of both houses of the General Assembly, imploring passage SBB755 and HB1322, which would freeze foreclosures in the state for at least six months. Legislators who attended the meeting included Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George’s), Sen. Victor Ramirez (D-Prince George’s) and Del. Aisha Braveboy (D-Prince George’s), Del. Doyle Niemann (D-Prince George’s) and Del. Anne M. Healey (D-Prince George’s). ,
Patrice Johnson, 53 a retired police officer from Prince George’s, told the legislators that she is struggling to stay in her home.
“My house is in foreclosure and it should not be in foreclosure. I never defaulted,” said Johnson. “I am fighting for my home because my house was passed down to me from my ancestors and I want to pass it down to my children and my grandchildren.”
Muse, pastor of Ark of Safety Christian in Upper Marlboro, said he supports the moratorium. He said political leaders have attempted to protect homeowners from fraudulent foreclosures, but more needs to be done.
“Money has been paid by big banks because they have admitted that they’ve broken the law,” said Muse. “The money should go into the banks of the victims who are homeowners.”
Niemann, told the volunteers and homeowners that he does not support the moratorium. He said homeowners have options, such as mediation, to protect their homes in disputes with lenders.
“It will do more harm to more people than it will help people,” he said.“If there was a moratorium on foreclosures, the banks will stop lending money, then nobody could buy a house or sell a house.”
Doyle’s comments sparked the ire of several of the volunteers and homeowners, who countered that mediation is not enough to protect homeowners.
“There needs to be an investigation [into] why there [are] so many foreclosures in Prince George’s County,” said Donna Freeman, 66, whose home is in foreclosure. “And you have mediation. That mediation is a joke and I am a victim of it.”
Freeman challenged Doyle to attend a mediation to witness firsthand how ineffective they are.
But even with the passionate statements from the homeowners, Doyle stood firm in his stance. He said Johnson and Freeman had “an ideological view of the world that unfortunately has no foundation in law.”
At that point, several people shouted at Niemann and Carmen Johnson, chair of the Maryland NAACP housing committee, one of the organizers of the event, urged calm.
Home foreclosure wasn’t the only item on agenda for the volunteers and homeowners. The NAACP statewide conference joined forces with CASA de Maryland, a Silver Spring-based immigrants’ rights organization, to ask legislators to support raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour.
After the meeting, the Prince George’s NAACP contingent participated in a rally at the Lawyer’s Mall with Braveboy, who is also chair of the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus; Maryland NAACP State Conference President Gerald Stansbury; CASA de Maryland Executive Director Gustavo Torres; and more than 100 others.
The NAACP’s Johnson said there has been an increase in the number of complaints from homeowners claiming they were swindled out of their homes.
According to Realtytrac, in January, the number of properties that received foreclosure filings in Prince George's County was 42 percent higher than the previous month and 86 percent higher than the same time last year.
In Baltimore, the number of properties was 44 percent higher in January than the previous month and 98 percent higher than the same time last year.