Barely a month after prominent members of Newark's African-American clergy community raised concerns about foreclosures in Essex County, clergy are expected to meet with representatives of one of the banks that has been cited for foreclosure abuses.

The Rev. Dr. Ronald Slaughter, the pastor of St. James AME Church in Newark, said he has a meeting next week with top executives from Wells Fargo to discuss the impact of foreclosures in the community. He said he was "very optimistic" that the meeting would lead to a positive outcome.

“I’m honored that Wells Fargo values my voice, opinion and commitment to assist the citizens of Essex County with this crisis," Slaughter said. "I’m also humbled that Wells Fargo wants to sit down with me and discuss a plan forward. I don’t take this opportunity lightly or for granted.

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According to a January report from ATTOM Data Solutions, a real estate data firm, New Jersey led the nation in foreclosures in 2017 at a rate of 1.61 percent of all housing units, compared to a rate of .51 percent nationally. The report noted that as of the end of 2017, there are 57,559 New Jersey properties with a foreclosure filing, including default notices, scheduled auctions or bank repossessions. 

Essex County has been particularly hard hit by the wave of foreclosures. According to statistics cited by Slaughter, provided by Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura, the county executed about 3,000 foreclosure notices in 2017. The county has collected more than $3 million in foreclosures fees from banking institutions.

Slaughter and several other ministers initially raised concerns about foreclosures in June at a committee hearing of the Essex County Freeholder Board.

At the hearing, Essex County Freeholder Vice President Wayne Richardson proposed a motion to examine how the county could potentially provide foreclosure relief for local residents. The residents include those who live in Newark, many of whom are economically disadvantaged and find it especially difficult to make mortgage payments at high interest rates.

Earlier this week Wells Fargo Regional Foundation donated a $100,000 planning grant that will allow the Lincoln Park Coast Cultural District to survey the community to develop an in-depth "Neighborhood Plan" for the Lincoln Park neigbhorhood in Newark.

While Slaughter praised Wells Fargo for making the donation, he said it doesn't absolve the bank from predatory lending and aggressive foreclosure proceedings. He likened the foreclosure crisis in Essex County and Newark to the opioid crisis.

"Both are very sad. Both deserve our attention and energy. Watching your home being taken away fraudulently and put on the street because the bank is unwilling to grant a forbearance or modifications allowed under the federal law is a traumatic experience," Slaughter said. 

"Some people have experienced heart attacks, strokes and other serious medical illnesses as a result of this epidemic," Slaughter said. "The stories and documents that have been shared with me have not only saddened me but they’ve also compelled me to use what voice or influence I have to help the people of this community."

Slaughter asked residents who have a case or factual evidence of being wrongfully foreclosed on by Wells Fargo to email the information to anettles@stjamesame.org.

“The time is always right to do what is right," Slaughter said, quoting the Rev. Martin Luther King. "This is an opportunity to do right."