Published in Oakland Tribune, August 10, 2011

OAKLAND — Dozens of local faith leaders and community members closed their accounts at Wells Fargo Bank on Wednesday afternoon as part of a protest against what they called poor community partnership on the part of all “big four” home loan banks.

The protest began with about 30 demonstrators, primarily under the flag of Oakland Community Organizations, or OCO, outside the downtown Wells Fargo branch on Franklin Street.

Several speakers criticized the bank, primarily for what they said was an uncompromising, destructive approach to handling loan modifications and foreclosures.

“I sent them hundreds of pages of documents,” said Marilyn Washington, a West Oakland resident who said the home she helped buy for her daughter and son-in-law is “completely under water, financially.”

Despite her trouble and her hard work to provide the bank with information on paper, she said, she’s had no meaningful help getting a modification to her loan, and she closed all her liquid accounts in protest.

Richard Speiglman, co-chairman of OCO, said Wells Fargo is just one of four major lenders — including Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup — he feels could be doing much more good in the community with the power they wield.

OCO officials closed all the organization’s accounts, and Speiglman made three demands of Wells Fargo:

One, they pay to the city of Oakland all the fines the city recently issued on blighted or vacant properties caused by foreclosure, most of which the bank has appealed; two, they begin using principal reduction to reduce the value of mortgages in cases where the value of the buildings has seen a major drop; and three, they release monthly data showing exactly how Wells Fargo foreclosures are affecting Oakland.

Wells Fargo spokeswoman Holly Rockwood said representatives from the bank met with OCO leaders on Tuesday, offering facts to rebut each of OCO’s complaints about the bank’s behavior. “We are disappointed that OCO has organized this protest despite now having correct information on the issues. While we can’t prevent a customer from moving their money, we can use this as an opportunity to educate them on the issues that OCO has raised.”

Of mortgage holders who are 60 days past due or worse, Rockwood said, 80 percent are able to reach an agreement with the bank. In 75 percent of those cases, she added, the homeowners are able to make a mortgage payment and avoid foreclosure.

Wells Fargo offered a list of phone numbers for customers who need help. Those current on their payments can call 800-678-7986; more than 30 days late, 866-903-1053; and those looking for a loan modification of Wachovia or Golden West mortgages, 888-565-1422.