Large banks should help fix Milwaukee’s foreclosure crisis

    I am a small business owner for the past 26 years. I am outraged that the large bank where I do my business has used my money to destroy my city. I learned all of this through my involvement in Common Ground.

    Common Ground is an organization of congregations, schools, small businesses, nonprofits, unions and neighborhood groups which works to promote the common good.  A year ago Common Ground leaders began to examine the reasons for the large number of vacant and abandoned homes in various parts of the city and suburbs.

    We learned some pretty incredible things. The three largest owners/trustees of foreclosed homes in Milwaukee and throughout the state are Deutsche Bank (Frankfurt), U.S. Bank (Minneapolis) and Wells Fargo (San Francisco). No local or community banks are on the list.

    Combined, these three large national/international banks control hundreds of properties. Why is that?
    Using my deposits and perhaps yours, these banks speculated in sub-prime mortgages. They sold or bought or invested in predatory loans that in many cases should never have been made. When the market went bust and these three banks got in trouble, you and I bailed them out with $42 billion in TARP money – our tax dollars.

    Now there are hundreds of vacant and abandoned homes these three banks control and we the local taxpayers are paying to care for them through extra building inspection, fire and police services. A further outrage in all of this is that these three banks just reported third quarter profits of $5.8 billion. John Stumpf, the CEO of Wells Fargo, just received a bonus worth $10 million.

    Enough of this craziness. These three banks must take responsibility for the devastation they are causing. This is why I am supporting the Common Ground campaign to hold these banks accountable for their actions.

    Common Ground is asking these banks for three things:

    • Responsible sales – Stop selling foreclosed homes at auctions and mass sales and work with Common Ground to develop a plan to sell these properties to responsible owners.
    • Demolition – Pay for the demolition of the properties beyond rehabilitation and donate the land to a community land trust for future residential construction.
    • Rehabilitation fund – Each bank contribute $25 million towards a $75 million fund which will be used to rehabilitate and sell these properties.


    These are reasonable proposals for the reasonable disposition of these properties.  Throughout my business career, when I have made a mistake, I have owned it and corrected it. These banks need to do the right thing. “You broke it, you fix it.”

    Bob Connolly, a principal at The James Company, is a member of Common Ground, a Milwaukee-based grassroots organization of congregations, schools, small businesses, nonprofits, unions and neighborhood groups. For additional information, visit.

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