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Victory for Higher Ground Empowerment Center; BB&T Bank does the right thing
Hooray! During the MLK holiday weekend, more than 65,000 Rebuild the Dream members signed a petition to help save a community church in Dr. King’s old neighborhood from an unfair foreclosure and eviction by BB&T bank. And we did it!
After an intense, 3-hour negotiation Tuesday between the church and the bank, BB&T backed down and agreed to a fair deal. This victory was a complete turnaround at the eleventh hour, led heroically by Occupy Atlanta and Rainbow PUSH Coalition. The sudden groundswell of media coverage, local community action, and Rebuild the Dream’s national petition forced BB&T’s hand.
This outcome shows: when we act together, we can stop big banks in their tracks and get them to treat people with dignity. The more banks have public re-negotiations like this, the bigger the momentum for millions of other struggling homeowners who are in the same boat.
“Today is a triumph for Higher Ground Empowerment Center,” said Senior Pastor Dexter Johnson. “We thank God for Occupy Atlanta and for Joe Beasley [of Rainbow PUSH Coalition].”
“BB&T has done the right thing and we’re grateful for that,” said Tim Franzen of Occupy Atlanta. “Today is an overwhelming victory for the Occupy Movement and the Vine City Community. We couldn’t have done it without Rebuild the Dream. And this is just the start of a lot of work we must all do for struggling underwater homeowners and property owners across the country.”
Rebuild the Dream applauds BB&T’s decisions. Some of our members who are BB&T customers tell us they think this bank is one of the better ones, and BB&T proved it today. BB&T should treat ALL of their customers — especially those with underwater mortgages — with the same kind of common sense they showed today because it’s the right thing to do, not just because they’re being exposed publicly. And all other banks across the country should do the same, even when the media spotlight is NOT shining on them. Toward this, Rebuild the Dream will keep campaigning for homeowners and property owners everywhere. The banks got their bailout — NOW LET’S BAIL OUT THE PEOPLE. It will take all of us acting together to win, just like we did with Higher Ground Empowerment Center.
Higher Ground Empowerment Center, a 108-year-old church located in Martin Luther King Jr.’s old neighborhood, was heavily damaged by a tornado in 2008. Their insurance wasn’t enough to cover repairs, and they were forced to take out a loan. The loan went “underwater,” meaning the loan became worth more than the property itself. The church is a pillar of the Vine City community, providing critical services and support in one of the most under-resourced neighborhoods in Atlanta. This community was hit especially hard by the Great Recession, and it became increasingly difficult for the church to keep up.
BB&T bank took $3.1 billion in bailout money from the American people in 2008 and used it to gobble up hundreds of smaller banks, acquiring another $26 billion in assets the following year.
Higher Ground Empowerment Center was not asking for a bailout. For four years, they simply asked BB&T to modify their loan to something reasonable and fair.
But the bank repeatedly ignore their requests and refused to act reasonably. Instead, last year, BB&T seized ownership of the property. And last week, unbelievably, the bank started to evict them.
Occupy Atlanta and Joe Beasley of Rainbow PUSH Coalition stepped into the breach with a press conference last Friday that finally got the bank’s attention. Later that day, Rebuild the Dream launched an emergency petition calling on BB&T CEO Kelly King to stop foreclosure and agree to a fair loan modification with the church. More than 65,000 signed the petition in just three days.
Tuesday morning, the coalition held a second press conference at the church and then met with bank executives at their high-rise office building in downtown Atlanta.
The church’s negotiating team delivered the petition signatures — more than 3,700 pages worth — directly to the bank’s executives. The church also showed BB&T hundreds of comments from BB&T customers who signed the petition, expressing outrage at the bank’s behavior and calling on the bank to do the right thing.
After a tough negotiation, the bank agreed to modify the church’s loan to make it possible for the church to pay it back over time. Just as importantly, the bank agreed to transfer the deed of the property back to the church. (This was a critical issue for the church, which could not bear to “rent” a property they had owned for longer than a century.) And the bank has even agreed to meet with Vine City community members next month to discuss ways in which BB&T can invest in the local community.
This is a powerful example of people working together to accomplish great things. Huge appreciations to Occupy Atlanta and Rainbow PUSH Coalition for their heroism and smarts. And thank you to everyone who signed the petition and took a stand for justice and dignity!
- Editor's Note: This article was originally published January 17, 2012, at RebuildTheDream.com. Reposted with permission. About RebuildTheDream.com (from their site): "Rebuild the Dream is an engine helping to drive the 21st-century movement to renew the American Dream. We harness the power of media and technology to mobilize, organize, and broaden the base of people working to fix America’s economy and restore our democracy. We are designed to align smart action among various champions and constituencies, at the national and grassroots level. You can read our crowdsourced platform of solutions here."