Congresswoman Maxine Waters and Mark Alston with brokers, realtors and agents. (Francis Taylor for Sentinel)
Congresswoman Waters in front of the bank representatives. (Francis Taylor for Sentinel)
Black realtors press their case for access to banks inventory of foreclosed properties and meaningful inclusion in the lending process.
By Yussuf J. SimmondsSentinel Managing Editor
Last Saturday, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (CA-35) convened a meeting between the members of the Consolidated Board of Realists (CBR) and representatives from Bank of America (B of A), CitiMortgage (CM), JP Morgan Chase (MC), Wells Fargo (WF) and the FHA. Black real estate professionals had complained that the majority of foreclosed properties in the Black communities were listed with outside brokers.
Using her congressional authority as chairwoman of House Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity, the Congresswoman who has been actively engaged in efforts to ensure diversity and equal opportunity within the housing and financial services industries brokered the meeting in an effort to bridge the gap between the brokers and the bank. She issued the following statement: "As my discussions with minority real estate professionals in the Los Angeles area have made clear, these large banks and the federal government often create barriers for the inclusion of qualified minority brokers and contractors. That is why I convened this meeting. It is essential to ensure that African Americans and Latinos have an opportunity to market and sell this huge inventory of foreclosed properties."
The host of the event was Mark Alston, president of Alston and Associates and chairman of the legislative committee of CBR. He set the tone of the meeting explaining, "Drive through South Los Angeles, and you'd see signs on the lawns from real estate brokers in Beverly Hills, Cerritos, Hermosa Beach and so on." And when it was mentioned that he had been a successful real estate broker for about 20 years, Alston retorted, "I was a successful broker for 17 years; the last three years were hell." And that definitely set the tone for the day's event.
After a solemn prayer by Alston's mother, he showed a power point slide presentation and introduced Councilman Bernard Parks (CD-8) in whose district the event took place. Councilman Parks spoke of the havoc that the economic conditions are having on his district and went on to explain the importance of the work that Congresswoman Waters is doing in Washington to ease the financial burden in his and her districts. Then he introduced her to a standing ovation and a rousing applause.
The Congresswoman stated emphatically that the situation within her district was dire and she was not there to lay any blame or do any finger-pointing. "There's enough blame to go around," she said, "so let's talk about how we solve the problem." Then she mentioned how the recession continued to cause increasing unemployment throughout the country but more so in minority communities and, "given the fact that minority communities were deliberately targeted by sub-prime lenders and are suffering the worst during the foreclosure crisis," a recent UCLA study found that African American Americans and Latinos combined lost an estimated $200 billion in assets over the last three years.
Then the panel of bank representatives made their case; each had ten minutes to make their presentation.
Matt Vernon (B of A) stated, "Modification if the bank's first alternative and B of A exhausts every effort towards modification." However, he implied when all else fails, B of A allows "a dignified transition."
Steven Pellets (CM) relayed his bank's view of "relocation assistance" euphemistically referred as "cash for keys." But to CM, he said, "Diversity is important."
According to Jess Durado and Abel Fregoso (WF), as of the last quarter, "92 percent of their (mortgage) customers were current." They were in the REO department of WF, Premier Asset Service and "modification for retention purposes is a priority of the bank." They also mentioned an influx of agents to a pilot diversity program.
Cynthia Thompson (MC) was very skillful in providing data. She thank Congresswoman Waters and Councilman Parks and said, "The last three years have not been great (for Chase)." Thompson also spoke about the agony of the entire foreclosure crisis continuing, "Chase's commitment in this marketplace is primarily to service our customers."
The final ten minutes of the presentation time were taken up by the FHA Rep. Bates. He sent the crowd into a fit of laughter when he said, "the reason my colleagues on the right had such low inventories is because they conveyed it to us." His jurisdiction, he stated consisted of eight states, and surprisingly his department had only 152 in its inventory for Los Angeles County and only three in the Congresswoman's 35th district.
The question-and-answer period was conducted by Alston and he mentioned some of his own statistics because the panel's presentation was lacking in substance and credible information. He said that for African Americans 85 percent of their assets was in their homes. But when the representatives were through, the brokers and agents seem to know less than when they started--they talked a lot but said nothing--which prompted the Congresswoman to say that she was anxious to get to the questions because she still did not know much more (than when they started).
Many of the questions and the recurring theme was the lack of African American and other minority participation in the process--the lack of diversity that all the bank representatives acknowledged was lacking and they claimed that they would take it 'up the food chain.' There were no African Americans among the asset managers, vendors or any of the other areas within the foreclosure process. And that everyone agreed was a disturbing trend.
There was a lot of information handed out and a lot of follow-up was promised between the banks and the brokers. Congresswoman Waters said at the close that she'll reconvene next 30 days to gauge the progress, if any, that has been made.
In addition to Councilman Parks' praise for the work of the Congresswoman, Sentinel's executive publisher, Danny J. Bakewell, Sr. echoed similar sentiments. He said, "We are thankful for Congresswoman Waters' leadership because the same problem that she tackles daily, as chair of the House Finance Services Subcommittee on Housing, confronts the Black community in healthcare, education, media advertising and in every other area. Unfortunately White people don't see us at all; an equal share of dollars never reach our community."