Sometimes the editor of a Jewish newspaper goes to church on Sunday. The occasion this week was the celebration of Black History Month and an announcement of the new campaign by the Northside Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) to halt foreclosures in Hennepin County.
There were a lot of Jews in the pews, and on the bima (or whatever Christians call that part of the church), at New Salem Missionary Baptist Church, up on north Lyndale Avenue. For one thing, the church has a sensational choir; the 20 or so men and women, backed by a small combo, gave full voice to a couple of emotion-laden gospel numbers. “Our God Is an Awesome God” sort of corresponds to Mi Chamocha in the Jewish liturgy.
But getting back to the crisis of home foreclosures, Jewish Community Action (JCA) has joined with a number of other community groups to publicize the practices of lenders that are renegotiating mortgage loans.
Dave Snyder, of JCA and NCRC, explained that he and other community activists researched 1,500 mortgage loans filed during 2007 in Hennepin County, and found that 360 of them were adjustable rate (ARM) or subprime. In other words, hundreds of folks with mortgage loans are heading for trouble or struggling to pay loans with interest rates that are heading upward.
Letters were sent out to those with risky mortgage loans, and JCA and ACORN volunteers went door-knocking to provide information about counseling services available to those in danger of losing their homes.
Snyder also mentioned that there are “a lot of scam artists” offering to modify mortgages for those who are in mortgage purgatory. He announced that the next stage of the NCRC campaign will be naming names of those banks and mortgage companies that are doing a good job of renegotiating loans and those that are doing a bad job.
“Nobody is talking about which company is doing what,” said Snyder, who vowed that the campaign would make companies “accountable to the public,” by letting everyone know “what are the good stories and what are the bad stories.”
Foreclosures, a blight on any community, have hit heavy on the North Side.
“We must defend the wealth of our community by holding lenders accountable for abusive mortgages that are destroying our neighborhoods,” said Reverend Andre Dukes of Shiloh Temple International Ministries, in a statement issued by NCRC. “Our churches are increasingly burdened as displaced families come to us seeking assistance. As stewards of our communities, we want to know which lenders are actually providing sustainable loan modifications to our neighbors, and which are not.”
Another phase of the campaign to stop foreclosures is an effort to enact an eviction freeze in Hennepin County, so renters will not be out in the street if their building is foreclosed on.
The NCRC initiative is bolstered by the involvement of JCA, the Minnesota State Baptist Convention, the Lao Assistance Center of Minnesota, the Minneapolis Urban League, Minnesota ACORN, and the neighborhood councils of Hawthorne, Harrison, Jordan, Near-North and Willard-Hay neighborhoods.
Among those who spoke, and sang, at the Sunday meeting were the Rev. Jerry McAfee, the New Salem pastor; the Rev. Andre Dukes, of Shiloh Temple; Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman and Cantor Barry Abelson, of Temple Israel in Minneapolis; Earl Schwartz, an esteemed Jewish scholar who teaches at Hamline University; and Rick Chase, a member of NCRC, the Temple Israel Social Action Committee and JCA.
Also, representatives of Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Keith Ellison read statements affirming the support of the elected representatives for the NCRC efforts.
It was a warm atmosphere inside the New Salem sanctuary on Sunday. Many Jewish families began their journey in America on the North Side — it’s where my mother’s family settled. So it was good to see Jews and blacks sitting together and working together in a project that aims to keep working families in their homes. “It is so important that we find common ground,” said Rev. McAfee. If we are going to weather the economic storm that is upon us, there has to be a concerted effort to stop foreclosures and preserve our neighborhoods.
As President Barack Obama explained last week, as he announced a $75 billion plan to curb home foreclosures, “a lost home often begins with a lost job. Many businesses have laid off workers for a lack of revenue and available capital. Credit has become scarce as the markets have been overwhelmed by the collapse of securities backed by failing mortgages. In the end, the home mortgage crisis, the financial crisis, and this broader economic crisis are interconnected. We cannot successfully address any one of them without addressing them all.”
Obama spoke from suburban Phoenix, Ariz., where home values have plummeted and foreclosure rates have soared over the past two years. The previous day, in Denver, Obama had signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the so-called economic stimulus package, $787 billion of government spending and tax cuts.
Regarding the foreclosure plan, the president said that it would help between seven and nine million families restructure or refinance their mortgages and avoid foreclosure. “And we are not just helping homeowners at risk of falling over the edge,” Obama added, “we are preventing their neighbors from being pulled over that edge too — as defaults and foreclosures contribute to sinking home values, failing local businesses, and lost jobs.”
The federal effort should help many families stay in their homes; of course, the grassroots NCRC initiative is needed to keep us focused on what is happening in Minneapolis. We should be proud that Jewish Community Action is in the thick of this social struggle, acting on the highest precepts of our prophetic tradition and the Jewish community’s legacy of leadership in social justice movements. There are certainly opportunities for more people to plug into the NCRC activities.
I’ll happily return to New Salem Baptist Church for another meeting, if I can hear the choir sing again.
— Mordecai Specktor
(American Jewish World, 2.27.09)