By Stephen Witt
Back in 1995, clergy and business leaders in Brooklyn’s communities of color led the charge in helping local residents attain home ownership. Now this same leadership is coming together to help some of these homeowners stave off foreclosures due to the sub-prime mortgage lending crisis. A coalition of clergy and business leaders met last week at the Brooklyn Christian Center (BCC), 1061 Atlantic Avenue, to kick off a new initiative dubbed LEAD (Literacy and Economic Awareness Drive). “How we work to end predatory practices in our community, how we teach residents the importance of having proper identification, how to screen people who solicit our community for business, and how to budget properly, spend less and save more are some of the basics we will cover,” said Rev. Marline Thomas, president of the coalition and one of the pastors of BCC. “We are committed to finding solutions and that’s why we are here,” she added. Among the participating businesses in LEAD are Citibank, Macy’s, Con Edison, Aetna, Prudential and a host of other banks, financial service firms and major corporations, according to Rev. Dennis Dillon, the BCC head pastor. The organization plans to open its first Brooklyn center for homeowners having trouble paying their mortgage or facing foreclosure in early February. The center will begin by encouraging taxpayers to take advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and to save and invest refunds instead of spending. The year-long initiative will also have an intense education and information campaign designed to give Brooklyn’s communities of color the needed push toward economic parity. The coalition will focus on financial education, going all the way back to the basics. Rev. Dillon pointed out, for example, that some homeowners utilized the mortgage lenders or prior homeowner’s attorney when purchasing their home who did not represent their interests. “This is the compounded ill effects of redlining and racism that has forced blacks to find solace and get help from fast-talking mortgage brokers and overzealous mortgage banks that target our communities,” said Dillon. “This is everybody’s problem and there is enough blame to go around,” he added. Dillon said the 1995 initiative to attain more homeownership in communities of color led to the purchase of some 5,000 homes citywide. Now some of these homeowners are facing foreclosure, he said. “This is the hour for us to move to narrow the very wide gap between blacks and whites in the area of wealth and real estate management and ownership,” said Dillon. “To know that there are corporations and financial firms that want to help provide meaningful solutions to the economic disparity of blacks by honing in on the foreclosure crisis is quite encouraging,” he added. For more information on the Economic Literacy Coalition, call 230-1101.