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ACORN wants to stop foreclosures, but it's too late in this case Mike from Alex Cooper Auctioneers is a stout, gray-bearded fellow with a cell phone clipped to his ear. At 11 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 30, he is standing on the top step in front of the Clarence Mitchell Court House on Calvert Street, as he does almost every weekday, preparing to conduct a routine auction of foreclosed properties. Today, he says, there are 12 properties to go—though the

includes 27. Below Mike, on the sidewalk, four or five bidders mill about with phones pressed to their ears and clipboards in their hands. Alan Chantker watches as the first house auctioned—a big place on the 1200 block of Calvert Street—goes back to the bank with no bids. The borrower owes more than $550,000 at 9.5 percent interest, says Mike; the bank starts (and ends) the bidding at $448,000. "Not my cup of tea," says Chantker, an investor and house-flipper who runs Snap Home Buyers and the

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. "I told people the market would collapse by the end of 2006," he says. "You can make money in an up market and you can make money in a down market. You have to know what your strategy is." These auctions usually are unassuming things, conducted so quietly and quickly that a person walking through the courthouse door less than 10 feet away might not even notice. But today there is noise. "No justice, no peace!" chants a crowd of more than 20 people, carrying placards reading "Stop the sale" and "Stop predatory lending." They are from ACORN, a national fair-housing advocacy group, and their focus today is the house at 4103 Raymonn Ave., in the city's northeast Belair-Edison neighborhood. They march in a circle on the sidewalk while Mike does his job. The bidders crowd around him near the top of the stairs. Some of them—they are all middle-aged white men—smile and laugh at the protest. "Oh you've got to be kidding me," says one gray-haired bidder in a camel hair overcoat. The former owner of 4103 Raymonn arrives. Her name is Kue McIntyre; she is a single African-American mother in her 30s who works at the Port Administration and at a hotel as a desk clerk, she says. She bought the house in September 2006 for $125,000, taking out two loans and putting no money down. She says her credit score was 606—not good—and even as she was buying the house, her car was being repossessed. "My problem was a wage garnishment that took one-third of my pay," she says. That garnishment came after the car repossession—she owed thousands more on it than it was worth and was not paying. McIntyre sidesteps the obvious question: Why try to buy a house while your car is being repossessed? "I was living in another area that had blue lights and crime," she explains. "I was trying to move to a better neighborhood." She might have done better for herself. McIntyre's initial monthly payment—before taxes and utilities—was more than $1,000. She says a house like it in her neighborhood would have rented for about $750. Michelle Moore, an ACORN organizer who arranged this demonstration, says McIntyre came to her just a few weeks ago looking for a way to save her house. McIntyre's main loan, for $100,000, was supposed to be fixed at 8.35 percent, Moore says—but it turned out to be an

. The smaller loan was set at 13.25 percent interest and was also set to go up, not down. She makes much of the various loan servicing companies that dealt with McIntyre's loans and the confusing chore of tracking them down to try to work out a deal that might have saved the home for McIntyre. ACORN wants to slow down the foreclosure process and force these loan companies into "mandatory mediation" or even a moratorium on foreclosures. But McIntyre says her interest rate had not gone up yet—it was set to adjust in the fall of 2009. So, the bottom line seems to be that McIntyre had no business (and no financial interest) buying this house at that time for that price. She says she started missing payments only in August, after the wage garnishment that resulted from the car repossession. Stuart Katzenberg, ACORN's lead Baltimore organizer, buttonholes McIntyre. Her house is about to be auctioned, and he wants her to take the megaphone and yell like hell. "Tell them this is the fastest foreclosure state in America," he advises. "Say it's un-American." In a scrum of TV cameras at the base of the courthouse steps, McIntyre does as instructed. The auction draws no bidders. At 11:30 a.m. McIntyre's house goes back to the lender, who started the bidding at $110,000. The next house, on North Bentalou Street, also goes back to the bank, and the bidders, huddled around the auctioneers, wait for a deal.

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