Helping houses remain homes

Cummings hosts fair to help Maryland residents prevent foreclosure during credit crisis

July 20, 2008|By Steven Stanek | Steven Stanek,Sun Reporter

Two years ago, Germaine Thomas and her husband, Anthony, moved with their five children into a house in an upscale neighborhood in Prince George's County. Their purchase price was $810,000, but now houses in the area are selling for about half that.

"In the course of about two years, we've watched our block disappear. ... Basically half the block is gone, and as a result, home prices are plummeting," said Germaine Thomas, adding that they are now unable to pay back their loans and are facing foreclosure.

The young couple were among hundreds of Maryland residents caught in the nationwide housing crisis who turned out yesterday for a forum with political leaders, lenders and counselors at Morgan State University in Baltimore.

The Home Retention Fair was organized by Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, who said the event was meant to bring financially strapped homeowners face to face with lenders to reconfigure their loans and avoid foreclosure.

"A lot of people are losing their houses in our state, and we are trying to help them," Cummings said. "If they have a situation where they cannot see their way clearly to make their next payment, or if they are behind or they are in foreclosure, we want them to talk to the mortgage company as fast as they can."

Cummings warned attendees that many of his colleagues in Congress are not sensitive to the plight of those trying to pay down their loans.

"There are Democrats and Republicans who don't have a lot of sympathy, and there are a lot of American citizens who don't either - a lot of them might live right next door to you," Cummings said. "The argument that we have to use is that when one [family's] house value goes down, and they go on foreclosure, it is going to affect everyone."

Cummings' 7th District, which includes Baltimore, has experienced a 600 percent jump in home foreclosures over the past two years, the Democratic lawmaker said.

Maryland had more than 1,800 foreclosures last month, according to, a site that maps foreclosure data. They included 404 in Prince George's County, 264 in Anne Arundel, 51 in Howard, 210 in Baltimore County and 340 in Baltimore.

Charles County, which had 165 May foreclosures, had the highest rate in the state - with one in every 311 housing units being foreclosed.

The roster of companies at the fair yesterday included big-name lenders such as Bank of America, Chase Bank, Countrywide Financial, Wells Fargo and Sun Trust Bank. Also represented were Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the nation's largest mortgage holders, which received help last week when the federal government offered to buy large amounts of their shares.

Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. was on hand to offer energy saving tips to those who are behind on their loan payments, including caulking around doors and windows in the winter and unplugging electronics.

The Thomases said they came to the event because they have nowhere else to turn.

Germaine Thomas said she has tried to reconfigure their loan to reflect current market prices but that lenders have sold their loans to other lenders and lost their paperwork in the process.

"You are stuck in a Catch-22," she said. "The banks don't want to refinance you, they don't want to redo your mortgage, and you can't move the home, so there is nothing left but foreclosure."

Anthony Thomas, who said he suffered serious injuries in a car accident and was out of work for a year, added that the couple faces foreclosure in 45 to 60 days.

"It's a very pressing situation, that's why we are here today at the forum," he said. "We are one of those families who are falling through the cracks just because we don't have anyone who is willing to help us."

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