Students take stand on foreclosure crisis

Members of Common Ground of Southeastern Wisconsin, including several Marquette students.

A group of more than 60 local community activists traveled to the state capital Tuesday in an attempt to encourage immediate legislative attention on the foreclosure crisis.

Members of Common Ground of Southeastern Wisconsin, including six Marquette students, lobbied state legislators and their aides to gather support for a new bill aimed at reducing the number of foreclosed homes in Wisconsin.

A bill from state Rep. Jon Richards (D-Milwaukee) would prohibit Wisconsin from doing business with any bank that holds more than 100 homes that are in foreclosure in the state. Supporters say it would cause banks that hold onto foreclosed properties to lose vital government business.

As of July 2009, Wells Fargo had 1,772 foreclosure filings — the most in the state. It may have much to lose if Richards’ legislation passes, since it provides investment management and administrative services to Wisconsin’s EdVest educational savings program. The state would select another bank to facilitate EdVest should the bill be approved and Wells Fargo continues to hold on to its foreclosed properties.

Richards’ bill comes as Common Ground works on its Faces of Foreclosure campaign, which the group launched last month at the Alumni Memorial Union. Members hope to force banks to take responsibility for foreclosed properties they own in the Milwaukee area.

“All we want them to do is be responsible for the homes that are just sitting there,” said Kathleen Scott, a Common Ground spokeswoman and senior in the College of Communication. “Right now, they’re sitting on these homes and it’s hurting the community.”

According to Scott, Common Ground is requesting that Wells Fargo, U.S. Bank and Deutsche Bank — the three banks with the most foreclosure filings in Wisconsin — demolish the most severely damaged properties, sell the other homes to responsible owners and deposit $25 million into a restoration fund to make the houses sellable again.

On Tuesday, Common Ground members canvassed Madison to spread the word about the Faces of Foreclosure campaign and gain support for Richards’ legislation.

Liz Young, a Common Ground member and senior in the College of Nursing, said they requested that legislators write a letter to the banks asking them to meet with Common Ground.

Lobbying was a new experience for the Marquette students from Common Ground.

“It was an eye-opening experience. You have an idea about how these meetings work before you go, but it’s a little intimidating to do it at first,” said Tony Damiano, a Common Ground member and senior in the College of Arts & Sciences. “We got mixed responses from people being very excited about us, to less enthusiastic. However, most of our meetings went very positively.”

Common Ground plans to schedule meetings with state legislators to further discuss the objectives of Faces of Foreclosures’ within the next two weeks, Scott said.