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Calvert County group aims to keep people in their homes-Initiative seeks to raise money, buy foreclosed houses from banks

With the number of home foreclosures on the rise both nationally and in Calvert County, a local faith-based nonprofit is taking a stab at a new strategy to keep people in their homes, and is asking the community for any help it can give.

Circle of Angels Initiative Inc., a 501(c)(3) community organization geared toward policy and advocacy to eliminate poverty, has been working on an affordable housing initiative since 2003, but now it’s stepping up its efforts. Through the help of community donations, the Circle plans to raise enough money to buy back foreclosed homes from banks and to then either keep the original families living there or, if that isn’t possible, to work with the families to help them find new affordable housing and to bring a new family into the house and work to ensure that house remains permanently affordable.

While the program, Mutual Aid Housing, may seem like a daunting task, Circle Director Roseanna Vogt said, “I know it can be done.”

Five years ago, she managed to raise between $20,000 and $30,000 overnight to keep someone in a dire situation from being evicted.

“You just call people you know, that’s how I do it,” Vogt said, and she knows many generous individuals and groups, including a donor email list of 2,000 names, dozens of churches whose congregations help with Circle initiatives and numerous partnering agencies that are also working to bring more affordable housing to Maryland, including Partnership for Renewal in Southern and Central Maryland, Partnership for Renewal in the State of Maryland and Southern Maryland Action Coalition.

While the actual number of foreclosures nationwide is unknown because no agency keeps an accurate count, Vogt said, the government currently estimates 11 million and that with children factored in, the actual figure is probably close to 50 million people who have lost their homes to foreclosure. According to figures for Calvert County, which has a population of about 80,000, more than 1,640 county homes have been foreclosed since 2008, she said.

The Circle’s target homeowners to help are widows, single parents, the disabled, the mentally ill and veterans, according to Vogt, and since it costs roughly $50,000 to foreclose a home and only $20,000 to $30,000 to save it and keep someone in it, it already makes more financial sense to keep homeowners in their homes.

Although this new effort has just begun and Vogt said she hasn’t raised much money yet, she said if she can get everyone on her email list to donate $33 — the average amount people donate online, according to a Network for Good study — that could be enough to save at least one of three families with whom she is actively working at the moment, whose homes the Circle hopes to buy from GMAC Bank, Bank of America and Wells Fargo, respectively.

Vogt plans to start with Susan Prentice of Huntingtown because “she’s the most critical,” she said. She has been working with her since late spring of 2011 to purchase her house and keep her in it, along with her 22-year-old daughter and infant grandson. An eviction is scheduled right now for Jan. 5, but it won’t happen if Vogt can help it. The Circle is negotiating with the bank over the home’s value, which is undetermined at the moment.

Vogt said Prentice is not only handicapped but also a well-liked Walmart greeter in the community.

“I don’t understand it,” Prentice said. “We went to court, we were told they would work with us and the next thing you know, I got an eviction. I’ve never gotten an eviction a day in my life. I’m a hardworking woman. I’m very shocked.”

Prentice said the worst part of the ordeal is knowing “it’s not just me. I have a 10-month-old grandson and daughter that would be homeless, too.”

The Circle has been relentless in its fight for her, she added.

“They’re doing very well for me, willing to give the bank the money,” she said. “[Vogt]’s worked really hard for me. … What I’m hoping is that God gives me a miracle. That’s all I can do.”

Pastors with whom the Circle works across the state are the messengers who understand how bad the housing problem is, Vogt said. They hear and then communicate to her personal anecdotes from their church members about lost paperwork from banks, banks refusing to modify loans as promised and rents that are even higher than people’s defaulted mortgages were “so people aren’t being helped by moving out of their homes.”

Moreover, Vogt said Calvert County in particular doesn’t have much affordable housing so many people end up living outside the county and commuting.

“Nobody understands how bad the problem is,” she said. “We’re just trying to see what we can do to fix it.”

Any group or individual interested in partnering with or donating to the Mutual Aid Housing initiative can contact the Circle at 301-778-3848 or info@circleofangels.org. To learn more about the nonprofit and its efforts, go to www.circleofangels.org.

mrussell@somdnews.com

Take part in the effort

The Southern Maryland Action Coalition, a community partner of Circle of Angels Initiative Inc., will discuss solutions to the home foreclosure crisis, including workforce and affordable housing, at its regular meeting from 7 to 9:30 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 9 at Carroll-Western United Methodist Church, 2325 Adelina Road in Prince Frederick.