On Memorial Day, as Americans remembered those of our countrymen and women who have risked life and limb for the rest of us, I was considering the next step in my ongoing effort to help many of those same brave neighbors and their families win their fight on the home front.
Our troops fighting in foreign lands should not also have to fight here at home just to keep a roof over the heads of their loved ones. This is why I was so gratified last month when an overwhelming and bipartisan vote by my House colleagues approved my Military Family Home Protection Amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act.
The Senate will now consider our effort to better assure that service members will not lose their homes to foreclosure while defending us abroad, nor be subjected to discrimination in home financing. When it becomes law, the legislation also will offer similar protection to the families of those who have been killed in the line of duty and those who have been discharged with a 100 percent disability.
Several years ago, I would not have thought that the home finance industry would engage in the illegal (and unpatriotic) practice of violating the Service Members’ Civil Relief Act – legislation that has protected many of our service men and women when they are unable to protect themselves.
Yet, after extensive investigation, Sen. John D. Rockefeller of West Virginia and I concluded last year that a number of banks have been illegally foreclosing on service members’ homes, as well as charging them legally excessive fees.
You can read our full report, entitled “Fighting on the Home Front: The Growing Problem of Illegal Foreclosures Against U.S. Service Members,” on the Internet at http://democrats.oversight.house.gov/.
The bottom line of our investigation and the rationale for my legislation is clear. It is morally wrong (and hypocritical) to applaud those who defend us on Memorial Day – and, then, take their homes in the dead of night.
There ought to be a law – and (the Senate willing) soon there will be. Yet, I remain painfully aware that far more needs to be done. Home ownership is ground-zero for our national economic recovery. Our foremost economists have concluded that it would be almost impossible to resolve our nation’s economic challenges without first addressing our struggling housing market.
Working together with President Obama, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and other housing leaders, we have been able to effectively address many of the foreclosure pressures here in the Free State – yet, even in relatively prosperous Maryland, the struggle continues
At the end of May, the firm, RealtyTrac, listed 2,571 current foreclosures within Maryland’s 7th Congressional District: 1,456 in Baltimore City, 852 in Baltimore County and 263 in Howard County – and those numbers, tragic as they were, did not include property transfers to foreclosing banks or other lenders.
To date, my office has conducted six foreclosure prevention seminars, bringing together thousands of homeowners on the brink of foreclosure with their lenders and mortgage servicers. These seminars have been among the most heartbreaking, yet rewarding initiatives that I have undertaken in public life – moments of opportunity when many homeowners have received modifications to their mortgages or other tangible help.
This is why everyone who is confronting serious mortgage problems now should seriously consider participating in my seventh, free, all-day workshop that will take place on June 16 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Woodlawn Senior High School in Baltimore County.
We will have representatives from 19 banks at the Workshop to conduct one-on-one meetings with homeowners about their mortgages. Homeowners will have the opportunity to speak with housing counselors and pro-bono attorneys.
Representatives from Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation will be on hand to answer questions.
I also am deeply gratified that we will be joined by Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler, who will discuss how people in Maryland will be impacted by the $25 billion national mortgage settlement with the country’s top 5 banks.
Homeowners concerned about making their mortgage payments should mark Saturday, June 16, on their calendars. Before June 13, they should prepare themselves to receive help by compiling the information and documentation noted in our advance registration form, available online at http://cummings.house.gov/.
The same strategy will work for our service members and everyday homeowners alike. Acting together, we can win this ongoing fight on the home front.
Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.