by Jeremy Borden for The Washington Post

May 4, 2012

He met privately with organizers and religious leaders from Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement (VOICE) and then toured the Manassas neighborhood of Georgetown South as neighborhood leaders described how vacant properties affect a place — and, as organizers and religious leaders put it, how banks and lenders used dubious tactics that helped Prince William become one of the worst hit places for foreclosures in the state.

In Georgetown South, the foreclosure rate once climbed toward 30 percent. Now, about 35 homes are vacant among 800 homes, according to community manager Meg Carroll.

State Dels. Richard Anderson (R) and Scott Lingamfelter (R), who represent Prince William, also attended the meeting and tour.

VOICE, a group comprised of religious leaders from around Northern Virginia, have made progress in seeking to hold financial institutions accountable for their role in the financial crisis. After a rally at General Electric’s offices in the District, CEO Jeffrey Immelt has agreed to meet with the group. They have also scheduled further meetings with J.P. Morgan Chase and Bank of America.

VOICE leaders asked Cuccinelli to write a letter to the attorney general of New York urging him to investigate GE’s former mortgage arm, WMC Mortgage Corp., which had a large amount of mortgages in Prince William that quickly went sour after they were issued.

VOICE leaders want banks to reinvest in Prince William County — to the tune of $300 million to $500 million to refinance underwater mortgages, build affordable housing and rebuild home ownership

And, during their meeting with Cuccinelli, they said they pressed him to make the most of his enforcement power under the $25 billion National Mortgage Settlement, which requires five financial institutions to help homeowners who owe more than their homes are worth (“underwater”) and who were foreclosed on. Although housing experts say that the settlement may not provide much relief to many affected homeowners, it is considered a first step in the legal reckoning of “robo-signed” documents and fraudulent practices in servicing mortgages.

Rev. Clyde Ellis, a VOICE leader and head of Mt. Olive Baptist Church in Woodbridge, said he urged Cuccinelli not to take part in the agreement, signed by 48 states attorneys general.

“It took $700 billion to rescue the financial institutions,” Ellis said. “How does it take [25] billion to rescue the homeowners?

“We gave the banks a second bailout, and they get to walk out scot-free.”

Asked about the settlement Thursday, the attorney general said he’s glad he signed it although he said his authority is more limited than what many believe.

“A consensus was reached, and we were better off participating in it rather than not participating in it, that’s really what it came down to,” Cuccinelli said. “So we signed it, I don’t regret having signed it.”

He said that many of VOICE’s requests — for one, to push banks to live up to the agreement — he is already doing.

“Now we’re going to work with what we’ve got to make it as effective for Virginians as possible,” he said.

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