The Mortgage Meltdown

In search of Minneapolis homeowners who need help with mortgage issues

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 23, 2011 - 1:09 PM

Braving cold and dark, volunteers are combing Minneapolis' North Side in search of homeowners who may be nearing trouble with their mortgages.

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“I’m concerned about my neighborhood,” said Ethylon Brown of the Jordan neighborhood. She and other volunteers were preparing Monday night to fan out in the neighborhood to visit residents and inform them about the risks of foreclosure and mortgage rate resets.

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

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The night has grown knuckle-nipping cold by the time David Snyder and T.C. Largaespada rap on the front door of a modest house on Upton Avenue in north Minneapolis.

They're lucky this time. Not only is there someone home, but she's also receptive to their message of help for those whose mortgages may be heading for trouble.

"I've been looking for some resources," says Cassandra Williams, whose aunt is the mortgage borrower for the two-bedroom home.

Snyder and Largaespada are two of several dozen volunteers fanning out across five North Side neighborhoods this week in an attempt to combat mortgage foreclosure.

"Our whole theme here is defending community wealth," Snyder explains to Williams. He's an organizer for Jewish Community Action, one of several nonprofits cooperating with neighborhoods in what they call the Northside Community Reinvestment Coalition.

The coalition's door knocking is a targeted effort. Using the same public records mined by those who made the loans, they're turning up on doorsteps of 350 homeowners who face sharp hikes in interest rates in the next several years. That's when their initial teaser rates are subject to increases.

The main goal is to get information about foreclosure-prevention counseling to those who are already behind on payments, or worried about falling behind when their interest rate resets. Those resets have been blamed for part of the increasing foreclosure rate. The coalition is targeting mortgages made in 2007, just before a new state predatory lending law mandated that lenders must determine that borrowers are able to repay a loan, even after resets.

But there's an organizing purpose to the blitz as well. Participants like Minnesota ACORN, which advocates on housing and other issues, hope to build a base of people motivated by foreclosure issues in a community that's the state's hardest-hit area for forclosures.

"I'm concerned about my neighborhood, and I know there's going to be a turn for the good," said Ethylon Brown, president of the Jordan Area Community Council, explaining her motive for spending part of her holiday season doing the cold, dark work of knocking on doors.

Trained to ask questions

Some look askance at the effort. "I certainly don't mean to discourage anybody, but I wonder how sensitive that is to go to someone's door with information that you know about them. That might be a little off-putting," said Barbara Johnson, a North Side City Council member.

But door knockers are trained to approach the issue obliquely, although they know the homeowner has a potentially troublesome mortgage. They ask about the impact of foreclosures on the owner's block, then tell them they're looking for people who may want to get in touch with foreclosure counselors.

Besides already vacant homes, they're encountering lots of renters in the houses on their lists.

The coalition may consider pressing for laws that would allow a tenant to stay in a foreclosed building through the end of a lease, or provide compensation for renters forced to seek new housing, Snyder said.

As well as visiting those facing interest rate resets, the coalition also is targeting about 150 borrowers who have gotten formal notices from lenders that their mortgages are delinquent.

"It's good to see so many people willing to put their feet in the street," said Cheryl Morgan-Spencer, a Minneapolis Urban League staffer who welcomed the volunteer effort. "Nobody's bailing us out so we're going to have to do it ourselves."

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438

  • about this series

  • This is an occasional series examining the effects of the collapse of the housing market.
  • FORECLOSURE MEETING A community meeting on foreclosure issues will be held on Dec. 15 at 5:30 p.m. at Temple Israel, 2324 Emerson Av. S., Minneapolis. U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison is among those who will be attending.

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