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Shining a light on the housing crisis - Brooklyn group CHANGER holds foreclusure vigil on steps of BK Supreme Court

Brooklyn homeowners, livid about the financial institutions and predatory lenders that led to their foreclosures, built a mock village out of foreclosure rescue advertising signs and held a candelight vigil as the sun retreated behind Brooklyn Supreme Court last Thursday.

“When you get sick, a doctor prescribes medicine to make you better,” said Andra Horgan, a housing organizer with CHANGER. “Where is the cure for foreclosures? We are living in a housing epidemic. These are tenants being evicted from their homes by a bank. This is absolutely nuts.”

Communities, Homeowners, and Neighbors Gaining Economic Rights (CHANGER), a homeowner member organization with offices in Brooklyn, along with United Community Centers, based in East New York, has been leading a campaign supporting homeowners in foreclosure-related crises for the past several years.

In addition to demonstration events and helping victims of predatory lending receive mortgage counseling, CHANGER is lobbying the State Legislature to pass several bills aimed at providing a moratorium on foreclosure cases and regulating abusive lending practices from mortgage lenders.

“There is good legislation on the table in Albany,” said Lionel Ouellette, CHANGER’s executive director. “It is a scandal for legislatures to break for the summer without passing legislation. Words of support are not enough. We need a vote in favor of homeowners and local communities.”

The number of homes facing foreclosure in Brooklyn continues to increase. Ouelettee and Horgan, who regularly attends housing auctions at Brooklyn Supreme Court (360 Adams Street), have noticed about 20 to 25 Brooklyn houses each week coming up for auction.

“This month, it has been closer to 15 to 20 a week, but it doesn’t mean these homes are being saved,” Horgan said. “[Homeowners] may be filing for bankruptcy so they can do a short sale. People have caught onto those tactics but that doesn’t mean they will be able to save their homes.”

Dozens of homeowners lit small votive candles in front of 50 makeshift model homes as they recounted their stories that led them into foreclosure.

Carmen Quaming of Flatbush has been fighting her attorneys who have negotiated to sell her home back to the predatory lender because she was not willing to sell her home. Randolph Corbett, after putting his children through college, lost his Bedford-Stuyvesant home and is now living with his adult children in Jamaica.

“Do you know what it is like to live with your kids after you raise them and send them to college?” Corbett said.

Others were fighting to keep their families in their homes. Karen Smith, a 30-year resident of Park Slope who owns an eight-unit building, took a loan with a private lender that ballooned to $170,000 after one year. Smith will come back to Brooklyn Supreme Court for her housing auction on July 3 after a previous stay.

Despite her financial situation, she is not discouraged.

“I don’t have a lawyer but I’m planning on fighting,” Smith said. “A lot of people have moved out of the building. It’s scary, but we don’t feel nerve-wracked. If we move on, it will happen, but we will fight to stay and we’re very vigilant about it.”

CHANGER members urged Brooklyn residents to call their state senators and push for legislation to bring relief to Brooklyn homeowners facing foreclosure. CHANGER member Martha Espinoza, who has been leading the homeowner campaign, said she was tired of hearing from the mortgage industry blame homeowners for the current crisis.

“I am a victim of living in a corrupt society,” Espinoza said. “This is an underground mafia and money is apart of it. I made all my payments. Give me back my homes, give all the other people back the homes and write down these loans!”

For more information about CHANGER, visit www.Changernyc.org

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