Brockton offers lesson in foreclosures

US officials tour city, see crisis up close

By Bryan Marquard
Globe Staff / November 2, 2009

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BROCKTON - Stepping onto a bus in front of his house on Moraine Street yesterday afternoon, Nylton Andrade held up a frame that held three photos matted over the words “Home Sweet Home.’’

The photographs of a smiling Andrade, his wife, and their daughter are now among the faces of Brockton’s foreclosure crisis. Their home is bittersweet, its mortgage burdening the family with $12,000 in debt that has gone unpaid since the couple lost their teaching and banking jobs.

That amount is due now, said Andrade, 32, whose house is near foreclosure as he attempts to modify a monthly loan payment of $2,300 while running a graphic design business from his home. His audience on the bus included community activists, civic leaders, and representatives from the Federal Reserve in Washington and the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. They were touring Brockton, the ninth and final city nationally - and the only one in New England - that Federal Reserve officials have visited this year to take the pulse of communities hard hit by foreclosures.

“This is my house - for now,’’ Andrade said, gesturing to his home. But “because you guys are here you are giving my family hope . . . the people of Brockton hope.’’

Touring Brockton “gives us on-the-ground, firsthand knowledge of what’s happening,’’ said Sandra Braunstein, director of the division of consumer and community affairs for the Board of Governors at the Federal Reserve in Washington, D.C. The Federal Reserve officials, along with US Representative Barney Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, attended a community meeting last night to lis ten to questions and proposals by Brockton residents.

Just before the bus tour began, Brockton Mayor James E. Harrington said the city has applied for more funding from a federal program for neighborhood stabilization. Brockton officials, he said, also are working with banks to use public and private money to help put families back into the hundreds of empty buildings that vividly show why the city tops the state with the highest level of housing units in some stage of foreclosure. “We hope that if they see our problems up close and personal that maybe they’ll give us a little favor,’’ Harrington said of the Federal Reserve officials.

Braunstein said she planned to report back to the Board of Governors and Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke with information and impressions gleaned from yesterday’s tour. Organizers said they were pleased with the outcome of the meeting, which included an agreement that Bernanke would meet with leaders of national organizations to discuss their concerns, and encouraging words from Frank, and Representative Stephen F. Lynch, who also attended the meeting.

“This has been very helpful,’’ she said as the tour ended near where it began, at St. Patrick Church on Main Street. “It’s been very enlightening.’’

Frank agreed. “It was a constructive meeting,’’ he said in an interview last night. “They were well-informed, and we had a reasonable conversation about doing more.’’

Sue Reichenberg, who works with the Brockton Interfaith Community, led the tour from the front of the bus, recounting high points of the city’s past and pointing out to the Federal Reserve officials “some of the good things about Brockton and some of our problems.’’

As the bus rolled, empty houses on both sides of the streets were stark reminders. “This blue one on the right is a foreclosure,’’ said Robert Jenkins of Building a Better Brockton. “This little two-family is a foreclosure.’’

Brockton hovered near the top of the state’s list of communities most affected by foreclosures even before the national financial crisis began to mushroom last fall. Dubbed “shoe city,’’ Brockton used to be rich in leather products factories, which have closed.

Job losses contributed to Brockton’s foreclosure crisis, along with lenders who offered mortgages to buyers who couldn’t keep up with payments. As housing prices plummeted, some homeowners simply walked away from buildings no longer worth what they owed, community activists said.

Andrade called it “a wonderful thing’’ to see federal government officials touring the distressed city, but he and his family are not putting their faith in the Federal Reserve alone. “I’m going to hope in the Lord,’’ he said. “That’s what keeps us going.’’

Globe correspondent Emma Stickgold contributed to this report.