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Residents want city to act against housing violations; Group calls for new laws to stop predatory lending


Residents pleaded last night with Mayor Martin O'Malley and housing officials to crack down on slum landlords and predatory lenders who have left them paying for dilapidated homes that fail to meet the housing code.

O'Malley and Housing Commissioner Patricia J. Payne met at Barclay Recreation Center with about 100 members of the Association for Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), a civic group that represents low- and moderate-income families.

ACORN is asking the city to adopt new laws to make available the list of properties registered by landlords and prevent lenders from preying on the unsuspecting poor by renting or selling woeful properties at market rates.

Berdina Reynolds, an ACORN member, told O'Malley that she is paying 12 percent interest for a mortgage on a house that didn't have a working furnace.

"It's a bad choice that I made, and I regret it," a sobbing Reynolds said. "But I don't want anybody to go through what I went through. Please get educated about buying your home,"

Payne and O'Malley said the city has joined a federal task force that is studying the problem of predatory lending and is working with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on proposals to prevent the practice and aid victims. A recent federal study showed that Baltimore had 1,700 foreclosures over a three-month period, Payne said. Officials believe the high number of foreclosures is tied to predatory lending.

"Predatory lending is a very big and sophisticated business in Baltimore, and we're just beginning to understand the ramifications," she said.

Among the steps being considered to address the problem, said Deputy Housing Commissioner Denise Duval, is a proposal to ask HUD to purchase vacant homes that can be kept out of the hands of predators and sold to nonprofit groups for rehabilitation.

The city also is trying to purchase computer equipment that will allow housing inspectors to conduct property reviews more quickly and efficiently, cutting down on paperwork.

O'Malley also introduced Gary Brooks, the city's new community reinvestment officer who was hired to work with area banks to bring more private investment into decaying neighborhoods.

O'Malley congratulated ACORN for its recent lobbying effort in Annapolis against predatory lending and said it will lead to neighborhood improvements.

"Congratulations to all of you who care about your neighborhoods and care about making the city a better place," O'Malley said.

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