Kansas City Star: Community groups ask for more responsible loans, mortgages

Posted on Sat, Aug. 01, 2009
The Kansas City Star

The American Dream shouldn’t become a nightmare.

So said Stevie Wakes, pastor of Olivet Institutional Baptist Church in Kansas City, Kan. He was among several speakers at a Saturday meeting organized by grassroots community groups asking for more responsible loans, mortgages and other financial products.

The event filled an assembly hall inside St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in southeast Kansas City.

Wakes and other speakers described the abuses of the “predatory lending” they associated with payday loan offices but also banks that need, they said, to be more accountable for their foreclosure activities.

Organizations coordinating Saturday’s event included National People’s Action and Communities Creating Opportunity.

Among those present were representatives of the Federal Reserve Bank. But what especially pleased one speaker, B.J. Atkinson, a CCO member, was the presence of many elected officials, several of them from the Kansas City Council and the Jackson County Legislature.

Several times, Atkinson and other speakers asked the officeholders to stand and pledge their assistance on various initiatives.

All did.

“I was very pleased,” Atkinson said after the meeting. “We have been working with these people before, but it’s great to see them stand up publicly.”

Various speakers told stories of personal financial devastation.

Andy DeShon of St. Joseph told how health problems contributed to him and his wife getting behind in their house payments.

Their efforts to make good on their payments led to a series of agreements with their lender, but letters warning them of possible foreclosure kept coming.

He and his wife are still working to resolve their financial issues, DeShon said. While he sees “light at the end of the tunnel for our finances,” DeShon said, his wife, Lorrie, isn’t sure.

“My wife thinks the sheriff will show up any day now to put us out,” he said.

Wakes told how health issues eventually led him to take what he considered desperate measures, including seeking help from a payday loan office.

“We need better products to protect us from predators,” he said.

One person not speaking was Tom Linafelt, director of corporate communications for QC Holdings, a payday loan company based in Overland Park with about 100 payday loan offices in Missouri.

Linafelt said he attended Saturday’s meeting but did not speak because there was no public comment period. Also, he said, organizers asked him not to distribute information that he said added more perspective to the payday loan industry.

“More than 90 percent of payday loan customers pay their loans off on time,” Linafelt said in a statement e-mailed to The Star. Payday loans, he said, actually save customers money by enabling them to avoid bouncing checks.