Vauss: Irvington not considering divesting from any big banks

IRVINGTON, NJ — According to Mayor Tony Vauss, despite the fact that his administration has been forced to resort to furloughs in the form of deferred pay for municipal employees to close a $3.2 million gap in the Calendar Year 2017 Municipal Budget, he is still looking for ways to help the town’s homeowners who are fighting to stay in their homes and stave off the rising tide of home mortgage foreclosures in Irvington.

But he’s not ready to join East Orange City Council Chairman Ted Green or Newark Mayor Ras Baraka in divesting municipal funds from big banks such as Wells Fargo. Green also serves as the director of the Irvington Building Department in Vauss’ administration.

Vauss said he’s ready to do whatever he can to help out Irvington homeowners facing home mortgage foreclosure, including collaborating with Baraka on redevelopment projects such as the old Pabst Blue Ribbon Brewery site at the intersection of South Orange Avenue and Grove Street in the East Ward that borders New Jersey’s biggest city.

“The entire area from the West Ward of Newark to the East Ward of Irvington, that area is in need of redevelopment,” said Vauss on Monday, March 20, at Baraka’s third State of the City Address in the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. “We’ve been meeting with the councilman that represents the West Ward of Newark, as well as Councilman Paul Inman from the East Ward, talking about redevelopment there. I’ve seen the plans of what was proposed there and I’m just glad that we’re moving forward to get this thing done for the city of Newark and the township of Irvington.”

Vauss said redeveloping the East Ward is all part of the longstanding plan to make Irvington cleaner, safer and the best place that it can possibly be to live, work, play and visit and, in the same way that crime prevention is an inter-municipal issue “because crime doesn’t have any border,” the same hold true for cooperation, when it comes to economic redevelopment and revitalization.

“Whether we’re talking about East Orange, Orange, Irvington or Newark, we’re all tied at the hip,” said Vauss. “We all want the best for our communities and we’ve been working together with our partners that border us for many years now. So I’m just proud of the work that Mayor Ras Baraka is doing here in the city of Newark, along with the partnership that we have in the township of Irvington, and it’s just an exciting time to be in New Jersey.”

According to Green and Baraka, it’s also the right time for municipalities such as East Orange and Newark, which have been targeted by big banks such as Wells Fargo that engaged in predatory lending practices in mostly minority communities, to consider divesting their public money from those private lenders. On Monday, April 24, Green announced that the East Orange City Council, which he presides over, is considering adding its name to the growing list of municipal governments across the country divesting their funds from the banking giant, in the wake of recent allegations of engaging in practices not in the best interests of its customers.

“We’re considering sending a message to Wells Fargo and its shareholders that business as usual is no longer acceptable,” said Green on Monday, April 24. “For many years, the residents of East Orange have been subjected to predatory lending and aggressive foreclosure practices by Wells Fargo. The consequences of stolen wealth have been devastating to families of East Orange.”

Baraka professed similar concerns at a home mortgage foreclosure forum and workshop at Essex County College, sponsored by Women in Support of the Million Man March founder Fredricka Bey on Wednesday, Jan. 25, which Orange City Council President Donna K. Williams attended.

“Newark is helping Newark residents with underwater FHA mortgages,” said Baraka on Wednesday, Jan. 25. “This program allows residents to secure loan modifications and remain in their homes. The program provides for loan remodifications for occupied homes. NJ Community Capital is working with the city to manage and implement this program.”

According to Baraka, “Bottom line: We will not put our money into banks that don’t invest in our neighborhoods and that cause families across America to lose their homes.”

“The city … office had hundreds of millions of dollars in Wells Fargo; we’ve already begun to move all of our money out of Wells Fargo and, probably by March or April, we will have a zero balance,” Baraka said. “We’ve already moved our money out of Wells Fargo and put a lot of it in TD Bank and City National Bank.

“Ultimately, it takes us time to move large sums of money out of these banks because these banks take care of our payroll, take care of our property taxes, they take care of our water bills. You can’t just go in a bank and pull $300 million out of it without having a problem or they’ll make a problem for you as well. You’ve got to meet payroll; people have to get their water bills and tax bills paid. So they take care of our accounts.

“So we’ve gradually moved our money out of Wells Fargo for several reasons. One is the foreclosure issue. But also because of things that have been happening nationally around Wells Fargo anyway. So we’ve already moved in that direction and we should be done with that in a little while.”

But divesting from Wells Fargo is only the first step, Baraka said.

“The real issue is that it’s Wells Fargo today, it’ll be another one tomorrow,” said Baraka. “At the end of the day, we’re jumping around moving our money here and there. I mean, ultimately, we need to figure that out about some of these financial institutions and we begin to put our money in public accounts that we create for ourselves.”

During his address, Baraka said negotiations are already under way to transform “the old Pabst Blue Ribbon site on South Orange Avenue” into a new “Veterans Regional Polytrauma Center that will serve returning veterans with specific needs related to trauma, amputation, sight, hearing and sever pain.”

“This project calls for a medical facility, a hotel, commercial component and, on the Irvington side, a multi-level parking deck,” said Baraka. “This will create about 3,000 permanent jobs and right next door we received a letter of intent to build a housing complex for veterans on four vacant lots. This entire complex will form a unique Veterans Village right here in the city of Newark and our city’s West Ward.”

Trina Scordo, executive director of the grassroots community organization NJ Communities United, said it is ready to help elected officials and struggling homeowners in East Orange, Newark, Irvington and anywhere else they are needed. She also said divesting from Wells Fargo sounds like a good idea.

“Fake accounts, aggressive sales goals, investments in dirty energy and blatant disrespect for sovereign rights are just a few more examples of Wells Fargo’s profit-at-any-cost approach to business,” said Scordo. “Unfortunately, this type of behavior is endemic of many big banks. The leadership by the city of East Orange, and the national movement of other municipalities divesting from Wells Fargo, is what is needed to demonstrate that our communities want — and in fact are demanding — a new system for how banks operate.”