Activists' bank protest focuses on plight of jobless


About 30 protesters marched into a Linthicum bank branch yesterday to try to block foreclosure proceedings against a Baltimore woman they claimed is a symbol of the plight of unemployed people.

The protesters, mostly from the ranks of the city's unemployed, crowded into the lobby of Mellon Bank's Sales Finance Division and chanted anti-foreclosure songs sung to the tune of "When the Saints Go Marchin' In."

The protesters were backing Laverne R. Sherrod, recently unemployed and now a self-employed manicurist and bookkeeper facing the loss of her North Longwood Street home. They were met by Mellon executive John Franki, who told them the office handles paperwork for automobile financing.

"We have nothing to do with home mortgages. This is strictly automobile financing," Mr. Franki said as the protesters shouted at him. "I don't have the slightest idea what you're talking about. This office can't help you."

After about an hour of protest, the group -- led by the Baltimore pTC Unemployed Council -- left the building and placed anti-MellonBank fliers on cars in the parking lot outside.

"We're happy with what we did. It's important we made a showing of support for Ms. Sherrod, who the bank wants to toss out on the street," said Steve Walden, an unemployed factory worker and chairman of the council.

Ms. Sherrod, who said she recently ended a 15-month period of unemployment, is approximately five months behind on the mortgage of the rowhouse where she has lived since 1977. She owes nearly $1,800 in back mortgage payments, and Mellon sent her a notice Jan. 16 that she had 30 days to make her account current.

Ms. Sherrod said she earns $300 to $350 a week as a manicurist and record-keeper working at home. But she contended her situation is typical of many people who are becoming homeless in the recession.

"I have tried to pay them some of the money, but they say no partial payments," said Ms. Sherrod, who has three children. "I'm not a rogue. I'm a good citizen who has fallen on hard times, like a lot of people in America. And I've paid my mortgage for 15 years."

She said the only contact she has had from the bank is a notice that a Mellon official posted on her door saying it was urgent that she contact the bank by phone or, if possible, at the mortgage headquarters in Houston.

"I can't go to Houston, and they're not willing to accept partial payments. So am I to lose my home?" she asked.

Tom Butch, a spokesman for Mellon Bank's administrative office in Pittsburgh, said Mellon Bank doesn't want Ms. Sherrod's house. But her mortgage situation shows a lack of effort, he said.

"The last thing a bank wants to do is acquire a house. Along with the human and social concerns we have, the house becomes a piece of property we have to take care of and sell. It's in our best interests to work with people as much as possible," Mr. Butch said.

"But in this particular case, no attempt was made to initiate a payment plan, according to our records," he said. "We are not taking any delight in this."

No foreclosure date has been set for the house, but according to policy, the bank may begin the foreclosure process any time because Ms. Sherrod did not meet the obligations of the 30-day notice, Mr. Butch said.

"I understand that I am delinquent on my payments," Ms. Sherrod said. "But I'm willing to pay as much as I can." She and her former husband bought the house on a 30-year

mortgage plan, with monthly payments of about $400 a month, she said.

The unemployed council, which was formed in Baltimore in early 1991, said in a written statement that banks should adopt a one-year moratorium on mortgage foreclosures during the recession and accept partial payments.

David Green of Parkville, who attended yesterday's protest with his 1-year-old son, Nicholas, and 3-year-old son, Josh, said he is about to lose his home because he is unemployed. "Banks can sit there and say, 'Where's the money?' " he said. "But sometimes I think they don't stop to think that sometimes, it's just not our fault that we lost our jobs and have no money."

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