Interfaith Coalition Mobilizes Around Foreclosure Prevention | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

Interfaith Coalition Mobilizes Around Foreclosure Prevention

Neighbors on Chicago's Southwest Side are dialoguing again today with Bank of America. The interracial, interfaith coalition wants to prevent more foreclosures in their community. It says all banks need to speed up their loan modification efforts. So far, at least one bank is listening.

On a rainy summer day, two hundred people chant outside of St. Rita Parish, off of 63rd and California. Organizers and Bank of America officials are inside the church discussing how to manage this foreclosure crisis.

ambi: rally

There's a curious mix assembled here: nuns, Muslims, black Jews and Latino families. They represent the Chicago Lawn, Gage Park, West Elsdon and West Lawn neighborhoods – areas full of working families living in two-flats and unpretentious homes.

And they support homeowners like Martha Rincon.

RINCON: I've been living in that house for more than 20 years.

After two roommates moved out last year, Rincon had trouble paying the rent. Now her home is in risk of foreclosure. Rincon found new roommates and has filed the paperwork to keep the home. But she's waiting to hear back from the bank.

RINCON: Right now I can't sleep real well because I'm thinking when they're going to say I have to move.

ambi of rally...

The Southwest Organizing Project, or SWOP, has taken the lead on foreclosure awareness in this area. The nonprofit analyzed data and found there have been 4,200 foreclosures in four zip codes. Each one is represented by a red dot on the maps SWOP generated.

MCDOWELL: It was really clear to us as organizers that we were seeing a crisis that was going to extend well beyond a family on a block.

David McDowell is a senior organizer with SWOP.

MCDOWELL: Our churches and school, our synagogues, our temples, the mosques. The very fabric of those institutions were going to become threatened.

It didn't take much to get those institutions signed on to rally and canvass their neighborhoods and congregations.

The campaign has targeted banks with more than 20 foreclosures in 2008. Bank of America – with more than 200 foreclosures on the Southwest Side – is the first bank that organizers have met with.

SWOP is asking for rent-to-own programs instead of having vacant properties and kicking people out of their homes. It also wants more loan modifications. A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston finds only three percent of seriously delinquent borrowers have had their loans modified in 2008.

Bank of America's Senior Vice President Rob Grossinger admits things are going too slowly. But he says the bank wants to do more proactive loan modifications.

GROSSINGER: This is an opportunity to look at what seems to be an intractable problem, which is the number of foreclosures and spiraling devaluation of home values and try to get a handle on it in a different sort of way. I don't think anybody in this arena would say that the execution strategies and the way that things are going now are hugely successful.

ambi: walking in the neighborhood

Walk along the 6300 and 6400 blocks of South Rockwell with SWOP organizers and Rabbi Joshua Salter points out dozens of boarded-up buildings.

SALTER: The open door at this one vacant property. Someone could get raped in there. You could drag a young lady going to the store or a 13-year-old, 14-year-old girl.

Earlier this year 15-year-old Alex Arellano was killed not far from here. His body was found next to an unoccupied, foreclosed home.

The empty homes also worry Irene Villafuerte, who is a member of St. Nicholas of Tolentine parish and involved with the “Keep Our Homes” campaign.

VILLAFUERTE: My fear is that schools will start closing and enrollment will go down. Parishes go down. We need live people in these buildings. Beautiful buildings unoccupied mean nothing.

It hurts, she says, to realize that behind many of those thousands of red dots on the maps, are families with faces.

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