Preventing foreclosure, one door at a timeby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
The battle to prevent more foreclosures in north Minneapolis has just become a ground war. All this week, a group of volunteers will go door to door to homes bought with adjustable rate mortgages. Their goal is to encourage homeowners to get more stable loans.
Minneapolis, Minn. — Before the first wave of about 20 volunteers hit the streets, they attended a training session.
They gathered in the basement of the Minneapolis Urban League offices in north Minneapolis, to get pamphlets, a few snacks and to watch a brief demonstration of what they might encounter.
"Hi, my name is Jeff," said Jeff Skrenes, housing director for the Hawthorne Area Community Council. He was playing the role of a door knocker.
"Just a second, let me open the door," responded volunteer John Hoff who was, for a moment, playing a homeowner.
The two manage to get through the demonstration without too much giggling. But the intent is serious.
The coalition that's come together for this program includes several northside neighborhood organizations, ACORN and other cultural groups like Jewish Community Action.
Skrenes says they used public data to compile a list with the addresses of more than 500 homes in north Minneapolis which were purchased last year with adjustable rate mortgages. These are loans that will be adjusting in the next few years.
The list also includes the addresses of homeowners who are delinquent on their mortgage payments. The goal is to get troubled borrowers into free counseling and get help to modify their loans.
All this week, volunteers will pair off, and with address lists and clipboards in hand, they will head out into the cold.
After a short drive, Luke Weisberg and Paul Poole sit in Luke's car to map out their route. Neither man lives in north Minneapolis. But Poole, a volunteer for ACORN, says he doesn't mind coming out in the cold weather for this.
"I'm glad that we're out here because it makes a big difference in the community," Poole said, "that helps save them from crime, boarded up homes. Taxpayers have to pay for stuff that is vacant."
As a commercial and business property developer, Luke Weisberg says a healthy neighborhood is vital.
"If we don't have people, then we don't have businesses," he explained. "So, I care about it from a business perspective. And then the other thing is I live here in Golden Valley. And it doesn't do you any good to live in Golden Valley if Minneapolis isn't thriving."
At the first few houses, no one is home or no one answers the door. They leave pamphlets at those properties.
But their luck soon changes, as they are greeted by a woman who answers her door.
She invites the men inside, but doesn't want to give her name. She's a renter and doesn't know if the landlord is having problems with the mortgage.
Weisberg hands her a pamphlet with information on renters' rights and a list of phone numbers. The woman tells the men that she's seeing the effects of the foreclosure crisis in her neighborhood.
"I have a friend who's been living in her house for 16 years," she said. "She got refinanced and, wow, they're charging her a ton of money."
The woman says the refinance forced her friend to file for bankruptcy.
After a brief conversation, the men drive to a few more homes, about seven total. They find another renter who says the landlord recently worked out a new mortgage.
But it's too late for the final house on their list. It's already been boarded up and abandoned -- one of the more than 900 in the city.
Weisberg laments the loss of another home, and residents from north Minneapolis.
"It feels like it's certainly not getting better yet," Weisberg said. "It feels like we've either hit bottom or it's getting even a lit bit worse still."
There are indications the foreclosure crisis could get worse.
University of Minnesota law professor and foreclosure expert Prentiss Cox says a second wave of defaults, maybe as bad as the first, is on the horizon.
Cox says there's still a significant number of adjustable rate mortgages that will likely get more expensive in the midst of the worst U.S. economy in generations.
"That's really been a toxic combination, and sets us up for an unpredictable next few years in terms of foreclosures and home mortgage default," said Cox.
Cox applauds the efforts to prevent foreclosures in north Minneapolis. But he says they're going to need a lot of help because the next wave is going to be more widespread. Cox says the state and federal governments need to force lenders to modify subprime loans.
In the meantime, members of the northside coalition will be back out knocking on doors tonight and the rest of this week.
- All Things Considered, 12/02/2008, 4:54 p.m.