Baltimore, MD

Wheelchair user can proceed with suit over Towson dorm

May 28, 2008
A federal judge in Baltimore has refused to throw out a would-be Towson University student’s lawsuit over accessible housing at a dorm that was built in 2000.
     The school, the residence hall’s developer and its management firm all claimed that federal laws barred Mark Kuchmas’ suit over design and construction issues once the building had been up for two years, even though Kuchmas was not shown a unit until January 2006.
     However, U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett decided the time to bring suit under the federal Fair Housing Act and other laws starts ticking at the time of the alleged discriminatory action, not when construction of the building is completed.
     While Bennett’s May 15 ruling appears to have nudged the case toward settlement, question of the time limit is far from settled and could be the subject of U.S. Supreme Court consideration before long, according to attorneys in this case and others.

She never bent in drive for justice

February 26, 2008
Martin Luther King Jr. often said, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice," and these words came to mind the other day as we learned the story of Lorraine Johnson, one of the original plaintiffs in Thompson v. HUD, the 13-year-old lawsuit brought by tenants of Baltimore's public housing ghettos against the federal agency that kept them there for so long.
     Johnson and other tenants had asked a federal judge to remedy decades of segregationist policies that left thousands of poor, black families stuck in the worst of living conditions.
     U.S. District Judge Marvin Garbis ruled that federal officials violated fair-housing laws by not taking a regional approach to give black families opportunities to live outside poverty-stricken, segregated neighborhoods. We're still waiting for Garbis' final opinion and proposed remedy.
     More than a decade ago, under a consent decree, Baltimore's public high-rises - such as Murphy Homes, where Lorraine Johnson and her baby once lived - were demolished and redeveloped as mixed-income communities. The city and federal government agreed to provide hundreds of units for public housing residents in mostly white, middle-class areas of the city and the suburbs.

Baltimore blames lender for wave of foreclosures

January 11, 2008
Walk around parts of Baltimore's Reservoir Hill and you can see the mortgage credit crisis up close and personal.
     A year ago, you had to dodge the construction crews that were bringing the neighborhood back to life. But now it's like a movie set, says city housing chief Paul Graziano: "You know, where you walk through and some horrible event occurred and all of a sudden there's nothing. There's no life. There's just nothingness."
     Nothing but empty houses and for-sale signs. The people who bought these houses can't afford to finish or keep them.
     The leaders of Baltimore are so mad, they're going to try to hold one of those subprime lenders responsible for the mess.

City could sue other lenders for fair housing violations

January 08, 2008
A Fair Housing Act lawsuit filed by the city of Baltimore against lender Wells Fargo & Co. could be the first of its kind, but it may not be the last.
     City Solicitor George A. Nilson said Tuesday that at least one other “significant” lender in the Baltimore market is “under evaluation” as a potential target for a similar suit, in which the city seeks to recover its own losses from foreclosures in Baltimore’s black neighborhoods.
     “There could be more,” Nilson said.
     The city alleges Wells Fargo targeted minority neighborhoods and borrowers for high-rate subprime loans. That practice, known as reverse red-lining, is illegal under the federal Fair Housing Act, the suit states.
     San Francisco-based Wells Fargo and one of its divisions named in the suit denied any impropriety.
     “Our loan pricing is based on credit risk,” Debora K. Blume, a spokesman for defendant Wells Fargo Financial Leasing Inc., of Des Moines, Iowa, said in a statement.
     Nilson said the suit was the product of a year-long collaboration with Baltimore Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano and attorneys at Washington D.C. civil rights law firm Relman & Dane PLLC.
     The city split the “less than $25,000” pre-suit investigation bill with the Baltimore-based Goldseker Foundation, which gives grants to city nonprofits for community development, education or human services programs, Nilson said.
     The city will shoulder the costs of what will likely be a “relatively lengthy” litigation from this point forward, he said, while the proceeds of any settlement or verdict would likely go into a series of programs designed to help aspiring homeowners and those with loans beyond their means.
     A spokesman for Prince George’s County, which has been hit hard by the subprime crisis, said he had not heard of similar plans there but would watch Baltimore’s suit’s progress “with interest.”

Lawsuit by city targets lender

January 08, 2008
In a potentially groundbreaking lawsuit intended to stem foreclosures in Baltimore, Mayor Sheila Dixon's administration is suing a leading mortgage provider for what the city says has been a pattern of predatory lending in black neighborhoods.
     The lawsuit, which the Dixon administration plans to file today in U.S. District Court, alleges that California-based Wells Fargo Bank sold higher-interest subprime mortgages to blacks more frequently than to whites and that the practice, known as reverse redlining, violates federal housing law.
     Lenders are increasingly coming under legal attack from borrowers and investors stung by the subprime mortgage crisis, but Baltimore's lawsuit could be the first in the nation in which a city is attempting to recapture costs associated with foreclosed homes that wind up vacant.

Report criticizes Housing Authority for demolishing public housing

October 02, 2007
The number of occupied public housing units in Baltimore has dropped 42 percent over the past 15 years — from 16,525 to 9,625 — as the Housing Authority of Baltimore City “is now in the demolition business,” according to a report from The Abell Foundation.
     “With virtually no plans to replace the deteriorated units being razed or sold, tenant representatives and housing advocates have watched with growing alarm as they wonder if the Housing Authority has abandoned its mission to house the poor,” wrote Joan Jacobson, author of the recent report, “The Dismantling of Baltimore’s Public Housing.”

Maryland renews push against shady lenders

July 18, 2007
Each time YaVonne English recounted how she lost her house in Silver Spring, she was on the verge of tears. Three years ago, she said, a series of financial setbacks led her to seek help from unscrupulous lenders.
     A broker referred her to an investor whose wife was a real estate agent.
     ‘‘I sold them my house with the intentions to rebuy it after a year of renting from them,” she told reporters at a news conference Monday in Rockville.

Disabled man sues Towson U. over dorm access

December 07, 2006
A Baltimore County man with muscular dystrophy was unable to enroll this year at Towson University because the campus failed to provide him with adequate wheelchair-accessible housing as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to a lawsuit filed yesterday in federal District Court.
     Filed on behalf of Mark Kuchmas, 28, the suit alleges that virtually none of the 108 units at Towson's Millennium Hall apartments - a privately owned student residence hall on university land - meets the handicap-accessibility requirements of the federal Fair Housing Act.

Redlining case in Baltimore is settled

September 26, 2006
Mortgage lender SouthStar Funding LLC has agreed to discontinue a policy of refusing loans to buyers of rowhouses in Baltimore and pay $500,000 under a settlement with a fair lending group, the Department of Housing and Urban Development said yesterday.
     In a lending discrimination complaint filed with HUD in March, the National Community Reinvestment Coalition alleged that SouthStar excluded loans for rowhouses valued at less than $100,000 in all markets nationally and excluded loans for rowhouses of any value in Baltimore.

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