by Georgia Pabst for The Wisconsin Journal Sentinel
January 26, 2010
As part of a campaign aimed at getting banks to do more about vacant and foreclosed homes, state Rep. Jon Richards (D-Milwaukee) said Tuesday that he has introduced a bill that would prohibit state agencies from contracting with financial institutions that own 100 or more foreclosed residential properties in the state.
And Milwaukee Ald. Michael Murphy said he was researching what leverage the city might have in getting banks to take on more responsibility in the city's foreclosure crisis.
The two gave their pledges of support Monday night before a fired-up crowd of more than 300 members of the new broad-based organization, Common Ground, which met to open a "faces of foreclosure" campaign.
"Look around Milwaukee and there's block after block of scores of houses in foreclosure," Richards told the crowd. "If you're a bank executive who lives in Frankfurt, Germany; San Francisco; or Minneapolis, it's no big deal. But if you live in that neighborhood, it's a hell of a deal."
Murphy said: "Every day I see the pain and suffering of foreclosed homes and the homeless. The crisis continues to grow. They said some banks were too big to fail. Well, cities are too big to fail. We need some help."
Common Ground started the campaign after spending 18 months researching the issues, taking walking tours of neighborhoods and talking to various public officials and financial and foreclosure experts. Records show that more than 1,700 foreclosed properties were sold at a sheriff's sale last year and foreclosure filings in Milwaukee now total more than 5,800.
The foreclosure crisis not only leaves houses vacant and abandoned, but it also causes neighborhoods to deteriorate, creates safety issues, harbors crime and drug activity, and results in declining property values and increased taxes for residents, Common Ground leaders say.
Last week, the group announced at a news conference that it wants to get Deutsche Bank, U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo, the banks that control about 25% of foreclosed properties in the region, to:
• Sell properties responsibly and stop selling to speculators.
• Demolish properties that can't be fixed.
• Donate $25 million each to a community land trust for future residential construction.
All three banks indicated last week they would be willing to work with Common Ground.
Wells Fargo and U.S. Bank have agreed to hold preliminary meetings with Common Ground, said Bob Connolly, a board member of Common Ground and a small business owner. Deutsche Bank said it is not involved in the foreclosure issue, he said.
As part of the foreclosure campaign, those present at the gathering, held at Marquette University, pledged to brief others in their churches, businesses and organizations about the foreclosure crisis to try to build support. Information is being collected on yellow cards asking people where they bank.
"How many would consider moving their money if banks don't do the right thing?" asked Connolly as the crowd responded with raised hands.
The group also has created a Web site - www.FacesOfForeclosureWi.org - for those who want to know more about foreclosures and the campaign.