Watts rallies against foreclosure

Listen to an audio story by Annenberg Radio News

A small crowd of residents and community organizers gathered outside a dilapidated home in Watts today.

imageThe windows are boarded up. A chain link fence surrounds the wildly overgrown yard. The sign in front reads: private property–do not enter. This is just another foreclosed home, an all-too familiar sight in watts–and a sign that the financial crisis has hit some communities harder than others.

“I lost my home. It was sold on August 15th and it was because I had been trying to get Bank of America to work with us on a modification and they didn’t want to work with us,” said Juana Quintanilla, through a translator.

Quintanilla is one of the more than 59,000 households in California that received a foreclosure notice last month.

Members of the community, led by the Alliance of Californians for Community Cmpowerment (ACCE) are speaking out against the harm of foreclosures.

They think the banks should take responsibility, blaming CEOs from banks like Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, and Wells Fargo for predatory lending practices.

“We’re tired of our neighborhoods. Cities and states paying the price. It’s time for wall street banks to pay for the mess that they’ve created,” said Lyneva Mottley, an ACCE organizer in Watts.

A Wells Fargo representative responded today. “We work hard to keep borrowers in their homes when they encounter difficulties and view foreclosures as a measure of last resort,” said Jim Hines in an email.

The California Reinvestment Coalition released a report today that estimates that the costs of foreclosures in Los Angeles since 2008 is nearly $80 billion – in home values, property tax revenue, and the cost of maintaining foreclosed properties.

California has the second highest foreclosure rate in the country and the numbers keep climbing.

200,000 homes in Los Angeles County have been foreclosed since the start of the foreclosure epidemic in 2008.

ACCE organized a neighborhood campaign called “Refund and Rebuild California.”

The crowd walked the neighborhood in Watts today, already punctuated with foreclosure signs, asking neighbors for support.

Educating the “unbanked” in Los Angeles

Listen to an audio story by Annenberg Radio News

imageThe Mexican Consulate in Los Angeles plans to educate Latinos about opening bank accounts.

Later this year, the consulate will work with Clearpoint Credit Counseling Solutions, a non-profit organization with four offices in Los Angeles.

Latinos are one of the groups least likely to invest in a bank account. A 2009 Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) survey found that 43 percent of Latinos are “unbanked” or “underbanked.”

Underbanked households are those that have a checking or savings account but rely on financial serces like payday loans, check cashing services, rent-to-own agreements and pawn shops

Clearpoint president Martha Lucey says these services can be costly.

“I think that there can be a distrust of financial institutions that may be culturally based and, depending on people’s country of origin, they may not have had a banking system that has the type of protection we have in the United States with the FDIC,” Lucey said. “The combination of factors makes it less likely for Hispanic households to be banked, and that’s an opportunity for us to talk about the benefits of getting into a formal banking relationship, and how it can actually save a family money over using cash.”

A Pew Hispanic Center report found that many Latino immigrant remittance senders (those who regularly sent money to Latin America) held skeptical views of banks.

Lucey echoed the Center’s findings, identifying mistrust as one of many factors why many Latinos don’t deposit their money in banks.

“Having to pay to cash your check takes money out of your pocket,” Lucey said. “Having to pay to purchase money orders to pay your utilities or rent or mortgage costs the family money as well. If folks can get a low-cost checking account, to be able to write checks or do electronic transfers for those services, families are going to be able to keep more money in their pockets.”