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.