BILL KACZOR, Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Religious and community groups urged Attorney General Pam Bondi on Monday to take a tougher stance on a proposed settlement with the nation’s five largest mortgage lenders over deceptive foreclosure practices.

A pair of ministers and an evicted former homeowner delivered a letter after holding a news conference outside Bondi’s office at the Capitol.

They contend the proposed $25 billion national deal that Bondi supports doesn’t go far enough. They say that’s because the negative equity on homes in Florida alone is about $120 billion.

“We want her to use her position to advocate for families all across the state of Florida who are struggling to stay in their home,” said the Rev. Errol G. Thompson Sr., board chairman of PICO United Florida.

The Rev. Russell Meyer, a Lutheran minister who serves as executive director of the Florida Council of Churches, said putting people out of their homes is hurting Florida’s economy as well as families.

“It has children living out of cars and then looking for a warm meal when they go to school,” Meyer said. “This is not life. This is not what we’re meant to have.”

Bondi spokeswoman Jennifer Meale said in an email that their concerns are “misguided” because the settlement would provide a historic level of monetary relief and will overhaul the mortgage industry.

“Rather than engaging in political grandstanding, Attorney General Bondi is working hard to reach an agreement that gets Floridians substantial relief now and holds banks accountable for their misconduct,” Meale wrote.

The settlement is expected to provide $1,800 each for about 750,000 families across the country. It is a response to such practices as “robo-signing” by bank employees who often knew little or nothing about the mortgage documents they were hired to sign.

Nevada, New York, Delaware, New Hampshire and Massachusetts contend the deal isn’t strong enough because it would protect banks from future civil liability.

It will not, though, fully release them from future state criminal lawsuits.

Booker T. Perry said he was in the midst of divorce proceedings when he was evicted from his Maitland home although it was nearly paid for.

“Mistakes were made on both sides,” Perry said. “However, with just a $2,000 balance on my mortgagee, I think something else could have been worked out besides eviction.”

Perry, who worked as firefighter for 25 years, said he’s now living with a friend in Apopka. He said his former wife and their children are living with relatives. He’s now active with the Federation of Congregations United to Serve, or FOCUS, in central Florida.

Thompson’s group is affiliated with the PICO National Network, formerly Pacific Institute for Community Organizations.

The proposed settlement would apply to privately held mortgages held by Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citibank and Ally Financial and issued between 2008 and 2011. It would not cover mortgages held by government-controlled Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which own about half of all U.S. mortgages.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.


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