Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Fair Lending Block Party

Hi Frogtowners! Last Wednesday, Sam, Needham, and our foreclosure prevention coalition put on a great event on the 500 block of Charles Avenue.  The Twin Cities Daily Planet wrote up an article about how we're fighting back against foreclosure--check it out!

At the block party, volunteers collected audio stories of how vacancy has affected residents and encouraged residents to take pictures and write what they want to tell banks, absentee landlords, and speculators about how the vacancy problem is hurting the block.
Our intern Needham walked the street with neighbors, recording stories about each vacant house, who lived there, and what happened since the families were foreclosed on.  The stories are going to be made available online soon and will be joined by more stories, pictures, and letters as residents continue to host fair lending block parties throughout the fall.
Needham and longtime resident Liz Colwell talking about the history of the block.

 If you want to host one on your block, we would love to make that happen. Please, contact us.  The block party includes several ways residents can engage and help us create a media campaign we will use collaboratively to put pressure on banks, the city, absentee landlords, and speculators:
  1. Take a picture in front of the vacant building on your block with what you want to say about it.
  2. Write a letter about your experience with the vacancy and foreclosure problem
  3. Record your story of the block.
  4. Eat ice cream and talk to neighbors 
  5. Join the rapid response team: a group of residents who are willing to call, email, and write to banks when banks refuse to work with neighbors having trouble with mortgage payments.
  6. Install property information signs in front of vacant buildings--which bank foreclosed, who owns it now, and how to contact that entity.

Monday, July 11, 2011

What can we do about fair lending in Frogtown?

Last week, we wrote about how banks targeted Frogtown with high-cost loans.  Looking over some new data this week, we learned that 1/5th of all properties in Frogtown-Rondo have undergone foreclosure since 2000 (1154 properties).

A group of residents and organizations got together last winter to talk about this mounting crisis.  Those present formed the Saint Paul Fair Lending Coalition, which consists of resident leaders, the Frogtown Neighborhood Association District 7, Summit-University Planning Council, Jewish Community Action, Hmong American Partnership, and Aurora-Saint Anthony NDC.
We have two goals:
  1. Prevent foreclosures through direct outreach.
  2. Change the way banks are treating this neighborhood.

The focus of our outreach efforts is the Frogtown-Rondo neighborhood: from the train tracks to Selby Avenue and Lexington Parkway to Rice Street. 

The first goal: preventing foreclosures through direct outreach, got underway this summer.  Every Monday, teams go doorknock renters and owners in the neighborhood who are 6-weeks away from foreclosure (using publicly available data) and build a base of neighbors willing to call or email banks on behalf of those being treated unfairly by lenders. Last week, we encountered one rental unit that had just received notice of foreclosure from the bank.  Renters have rights, but the bank and landlord were obviously not informing them of their right to stay in the home for the duration of their lease. Through referrals and counseling, we help homeowners and renters stay in their homes. We encourage everyone to volunteer with a doorknock team.  If you are interested, Contact Us.

Here's where we've doorknocked so far:
But sometimes the banks are unwilling to work with residents.  To get the banks to work with residents, it takes pressure.  That's why we are building a rapid response team made up of residents who are willing to call, email, write letters, and put pressure on bank leaders to respond to community needs.  If you want to part of the rapid response team, Contact Us!

The second goal: changing the way banks treat Frogtown-Rondo, involves a higher level of strategy and collective power.  Using incentives and punishments, we hope to create more fair lending in the neighborhood.  One proposal underway in Minneapolis is to pass a city or county ordinance requiring banks to report their fair lending information (# of foreclosures each year, # of modifications vs. foreclosures, # of small business loans, etc) in order to be eligible to receive city or county deposits.  The ordinance also would require the banks to submit a Reinvestment Plan every two years on how they are going to increase fair lending.  Failure to disclose this information or make improvements on practices would result in a loss of millions of government deposits. The District 7 team is thinking up more creative, Frogtown-specific ways to increase fair lending and need your input!

Every month we have a dinner, discussion, and doorknock.  This month's event is at Unity Baptist Church (118 Victoria St N., corner of Victoria and Laurel) at 5:30.  All are welcome.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Foreclosures in Frogtown

Welcome to the inaugural Frogtown Croaker blog post!  From time to time, we will be updating the community on various happenings, events, issues, and projects going on in District 7.  If you would like to contribute to this ongoing media project, email Tait at

We're kicking off the blog with an update on foreclosures in the neighborhood.  As part of our ongoing work with the Saint Paul Fair Lending Coalition, our intern Needham has done research to give us a big picture of foreclosures and lending over the last 11 years.
From 2000 to 2010, 1154 homes in Frogtown-Rondo went into foreclosure, and best estimates predict there will be over 150 this year.  This rise in foreclosures since 2006 stems from the way banks have been treating this neighborhood.  In one area of Frogtown, from Dale Street to Western north of University Avenue, over 45% of all loans originated between 2004 and 2007 were considered "high-cost" by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  Between Frogtown & Old Rondo, our neighborhood has the highest concentration of "high-cost" lending in the whole city.  The map below shows the concentration of high-cost lending throughout Saint Paul.  Besides Frogtown-Rondo, the east side also was targeted by banks for high-cost loans.

The concentration of bad loans to the neighborhood has meant tragedy for many families and neighbors.  Nationally, we know banks were more likely to target African Americans and other people of color for subprime loans.  The NAACP reports that 54% of all subprime loans in 2006 went to African Americans. Across the country, economic and racial discrimination has been closely linked this geography of bad loans (Howell 2006).

The concentration of bad loans has also meant high vacancy rates.  The home vacancy rate in Frogtown grew twice as fast as the city average over this period. The neighborhood's average vacancy rate peaked at 8% in 2008, but some areas of the neighborhood experienced rates closed to 15%.

As we noted earlier, certain areas of Frogtown were hit harder than others.  The map below shows aggregated vacancy information from 2005 to 2010 for both Frogtown and part of Summit-University:

There was slight improvement in the vacancy situation in 2009, mostly because the city bought up many vacant buildings. However, in 2010, ongoing unemployment and a poor economy led to more vacancy and low housing prices across the neighborhood.  You may notice that the area from Dale to Western has the most persistently high vacancy rate of any neighborhood subarea.  Again, this area had the highest concentration of "high-cost" lending in the entire city.

But the vacancy problem isn't just in Frogtown.  Citywide we are seeing a direct correlation between the way banks treated neighborhoods and empty homes:

The east side, an area also hit with high-cost loans, is having a difficult time recovering. Vacancy continues to be a problem.

We want to hear from you! As residents, what ideas do you have to stop foreclosures?  Are there vacant properties on your block? To counteract unfair lending, vacancy, and foreclosure, we've joined forces with five other organizations to form the Saint Paul Fair Lending Coalition.  We're building up our coalition, and you can be a part of it. Just email me ( or Sam Buffington (  Next week, we'll post more information on what the coalition is doing, how we can work together to keep people in their homes, and hold banks accountable for their unfair lending practices.