Meg Carroll has seen firsthand how foreclosures can bring a once proud subdivision to near desperation.
As the community manager of Georgetown South in Manassas, she has seen abandoned homes used for prostitution, vandalism and drug dealing—all because of predatory lending practices of some of the country’s largest financial institutions. Carroll said almost 300 of the 850 homes in the subdivision are now foreclosed.
“It is destruction on the outside, and for those of us who can peel back the layer, there is more and it is absolutely horrible to see it,” Carroll said.
Community leaders like Carroll got some good news Sunday at an event that VOICE organized at Freedom High School in Woodbridge, when one of these banks pledged money to help some of these families that want to keep their homes. More than 900 people attended the event, which was a clear message to the financial institutions that no one is about to give up.
VOICE is a coalition of churches and civic organizations trying to find solutions to the foreclosure problem in Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park. VOICE estimates that 6,000 Prince William County families are behind on their mortgage payments. The group blames financial institutions for most of the 16,000 foreclosures in this region in the past five years. Members specifically named GE/WMC Mortgage, Bank of America/Countrywide and JP Morgan Chase/Bear Stearns/Long Beach Mortgage for having the most predatory loans and the highest foreclosure rates in Prince William, Manassas and Manassas Park.
The biggest announcement Sunday came from Bank of America’s Senior Community Affairs Executive Ken Wade, who said Bank of America is committing $216,000 to fund three mortgage counselors who will help people in the Prince William County area, which will double the number of counselors already here. This means families that are facing foreclosure will have more HUD-certified counselors to reach out to for help. JP Morgan Chase Vice President of Servicing Partnerships Gerald McCoy agreed to have one of the institution’s executive vice presidents meet with VOICE members. Sen. Mark Warner was also present at Sunday’s event.
Although Bank of America’s financial commitment was good news, the amount is far from the $10 million over five years that VOICE has been demanding from the financial institutions.
Carroll said no one wants to take ownership of the foreclosed homes in Georgetown South. The families often move in a hurry, leaving behind personal belongings. She said trying to find the bank that owns each home is a difficult puzzle. Some homes had AC units and walls ripped out so thieves could steal the copper pipes that were more widely used in the 1960s when Georgetown South was a new community. One foreclosed home that is left to deteriorate can adversely impact the value of the entire block, which creates more innocent victims.
“Some of these houses have been vacant for years and we try to find a bank to admit to them and they don’t,” she said. “This one house has seen prostitution, it has seen drugs and it was so vandalized that its value must have been lost by at least half. It was ridiculous what they allowed to be done.”
Bull Run Unitarian Universalists Rev. Nancy McDonald Ladd said Bank of America’s announcement is a step in the right direction for families devastated by the foreclosure crisis.
“Just to get an answer has been excruciating and part of that is because they don’t have a housing counselor advocating for them,” she said.
VOICE also wants banks to fix the mortgage modification process to meet the needs of families. The process is slow and too complicated, members said on Sunday. VOICE is also asking the financial institutions to reinvest up to $500 million to help stabilize neighborhoods, reduce principal payments and develop affordable housing. Ladd said the housing counselors could help homeowners with the loads of paperwork that is required to modify a mortgage.
“There are various government programs that the banks offer that the consumers have trouble tracking down on their own, so a housing counselor can help them,” she said.
Ladd said the next step is to continue meeting with bank executives and politicians so the group can get additional commitments to help families hurt by the foreclosure crisis here.
"Those people in power can make bold choices to effect change in our communities,” she said.