Victory for Higher Ground Empowerment Center

Today, BB&T bank agreed to a fair deal with the church, after an intense, 3-hour negotiation between bank executives and the church, Occupy Atlanta and Rainbow PUSH Coalition. The bank agreed to modify the church’s loan to make it affordable. Just as importantly, the bank agreed to transfer ownership of the property back to the church. (The bank had seized ownership of the property last year). And the bank has even agreed to meet with Vine City community members next month to discuss ways in which BB&T bank can invest in the local community.

“Today is a triumph for Higher Ground Empowerment Center,” said Senior Pastor Dexter Johnson. “We thank God for Occupy Atlanta and for Joe Beasley [of Rainbow PUSH Coalition].”

“BB&T has done the right thing and we’re grateful for that,” said Tim Franzen of Occupy Atlanta. “Today is an overwhelming victory for the Occupy Movement and the Vine City Community. We couldn’t have done it without Rebuild the Dream. And this is just the start of a lot of work we must all do for struggling underwater homeowners and property owners across the country.”

Higher Ground Empowerment Center, a 108-year-old church located in Martin Luther King Jr.’s old neighborhood, was heavily damaged by a tornado in 2008. Their insurance wasn’t enough to cover repairs, and they were forced to take out a loan. The loan went “underwater,” meaning the loan became worth more than the property itself and it became increasingly difficult for the church to pay it back. For years, BB&T ignored the church’s requests to work out a loan modification. Instead, last year, the bank seized ownership of the property. And last week, the bank started to evict them.

Rebuild the Dream launched an emergency petition last Friday. In just three days, more than 65,000 people signed the petition [http://act.rebuildthedream.com/sign/is-nothing-sacred/], calling on BB&T CEO Kelly King to stop foreclosure and agree to a fair loan modification with the church.

Today, the petition signatures – more than 3,700 pages worth – were delivered directly to BB&T bank executives by the church’s senior pastor, activists from Occupy Atlanta, and Joe Beasley of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. They also delivered comments from hundreds of BB&T bank customers who signed the petition, expressing shame and outrage at the bank’s attempts to evict the church and calling on the bank to do the right thing. The petition played a key role in showing that people across the country were paying attention, and helped force the bank to negotiate fairly with the church. Thank you to everyone who signed the petition and took a stand for justice and dignity!

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