Angered by mortgage policies that fail to address the national foreclosure crisis, members of New York's clergy gathered in front of JPMorgan Chase's Park Avenue headquarters on Thursday to close their accounts and exorcise what they perceived to be the evil spirits inhabiting the bank.
"JPMorgan Chase needs to be exorcised from the demons of selfishness, avarice and greed," Rev. Allan Ramirez of the Brookville Reformed Church, in Brookville, N.Y., said in a statement. "The people who bailed them out when they brought us to the brink of a world economic collapse are the very people whose mortgages they are foreclosing and throwing out on the streets into homelessness."
Ramirez performed the exorcism as part of a larger effort organized by New York Communities for Change, formerly the New York chapter of ACORN, in which elected officials, clergy and unions are campaigning to pressure JPMorgan to reform its mortgage policies and take steps to address the national foreclosure crisis. Ramirez was joined by a handful of other religious leaders, including Bishop Orlando Findlayter and Minister Patricia Malcolm of Churches United to Save and Heal, a coalition of over 100 churches in Brooklyn.
"It is powerful when the community comes together to stand up and do something about the foreclosure and mortgage crisis, especially when you see banks like Chase profiting by preying on families," Malcolm said in a statement Thursday. "Institutions like Chase were built by the people they have a responsibility to help those struggling. It doesn't matter whether you have $5 or $60,000 in an account: We want Chase to get the message."
Nearly one-quarter of all U.S. homeowners with a mortgage -- some 10.8 million people -- owe more on their home than it's worth. Only 6 percent of the 1,027 New York homeowners seeking mortgage assistance in the past year from JPMorgan Chase received a loan modification, according to a recent study by New York Communities for Change.
Michael Fusco, a spokesperson for Chase, said the bank is doing everything possible to help homeowners. "In the New York metro area, we encourage struggling Chase borrowers to come to our five-day event at the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott that starts March 31 and runs through April 4," he told HuffPost in a statement Thursday. "We will have dozens of loan counselors available to talk one on one with customers and gave over their specific situation. We also have five permanent centers in the New York metro area -- in Flushing, Brooklyn and the Bronx as well as Jersey City and Paramus, N.J. -- to provide face-to-face counseling to homeowners, and have met with 9,298 borrowers through the end of 2010."
Added Fusco: "We have helped avoid 487,294 foreclosures since 2009, avoiding foreclosure twice as often as we have had to foreclose."
The NYCC campaign kicked off in late February when New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams marched into a Park Avenue Chase bank to denounce the bank's failure to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. HuffPost's Laura Bassett reported:
After denouncing the bank to a cheering crowd and calling its executives "bloodsuckers" for accepting bailout money and refusing to help the suffering homeowners they "preyed on," Williams was stopped by security guards at the door and told the branch was closed. The mob then chanted "open the door" until Williams was let in, at which point he closed his account.
Williams told HuffPost that when campaigning in New York City, he met at least two people on every block with mortgage troubles. He said he doesn't want the bank to use his money to "further deteriorate the community" he represents, especially in light of chief executive Jamie Dimon's recent $17 million bonus.
"It's incredible what these banks are making people go through," he said. "It's disgusting. They're like bloodsuckers, just sucking the lifeblood out of communities and refusing to help out. I understand that people need to get paid to get the best and brightest and these bonuses help with that, but you can't do that and then not assist the community and then get a taxpayer bailout to the tune of billions of dollars. That's just greed at its worst."