East Bay priest fights foreclosure crisis

December 14, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
In the community of Antioch, a Catholic church has joined a battle against banks that are foreclosing on homeowners. The local priest saying he felt compelled by what he saw happening in his parish.

Father Robert Rien drove ABC7 through his community that's been decimated by the foreclosure crisis.

"There's another one. It's like almost every three or four houses there's another for sale sign and here is one right here," he said.

Of the thousand families that belong to his church, Father Rein says a couple dozen have been forced out of their homes and dozens more are facing foreclosure.

"They would get the documentation that they needed, and then they would go to the bank and the bank would say, 'Well, we can't find your documents. Your documents are missing, your documents have been misplaced, we never received your documents,' and the very next day they'd get an eviction notice," he said.

So Rien is pulling the $100,000 his church has deposited at Bank of America and he's moving it across the street to Bank of the West.

"It's the first time in my life that I've sort of taken a stand like this publicly," said Father Rien.

But it's not the first time public officials have called for pulling money from the bank.

Just before he won election to Congress, John Garamendi urged Antioch residents to pull their money from banks that weren't cooperating with homeowners over mortgage renegotiation.

On Monday, President Barack Obama took a more conciliatory tone after speaking to bank executives face to face.

"My interest isn't in vilifying any one person or institution or industry. My job is to ensure that consumers and the larger economy are protected from risky speculation and predatory practices," he said.

Bank of America says it's reached out to the Contra Costa interfaith group that includes Father Rien and have set up a meeting with the organization to discuss their concerns. The bank says it's "committed to helping struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure."

But Rein says he's pulling the money anyway.

"We feel we still need to address the injustice and I want them to know we're serious about the action," he said.

Later that day, Father Rien had changed his mind. He only closed a couple of accounts, leaving the majority of the money in Bank of America. He says he wants to see if the bank will come through. The meeting is set for January 12.

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