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194-Yr Old Historic Black Church Faces Foreclosure

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Scandal-plagued Hub bank OneUnited has begun foreclosure proceedings against Roxbury’s historic Charles Street African Methodist Episcopal Church, one of Boston’s oldest and most-respected black churches, the Herald has learned.

OneUnited, the nation’s largest black-owned bank — which got millions in federal bailout money — is threatening to auction off the church March 22 to cover a $1.1 million “balloon” mortgage that recently came due.

“I don’t honestly know why a bank would want to foreclose on a church. It doesn’t make any sense to me,” congregation lawyer Ross Martin said.

Founded in 1818, the Charles Street AME Church was a key player in the 19th century anti-slavery movement.

Abolitionists including Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison led rallies at the congregation’s original Beacon Hill home, while the church helped runaway slaves reach Canada.

Martin said the congregation has never missed a payment on its five-year-old mortgage.

OneUnited didn’t return calls seeking comment. Martin said he believes the bank’s foreclosure threat is a “negotiating ploy” in a long-running dispute with the church.

Charles Street AME took out a $3.6 million loan in 2006 to build an adjacent community center, but OneUnited shut off funding after three years. The bank sued to get its money back, making it hard for Charles Street AME to refinance a balloon mortgage that came due on the church itself and some adjacent storefronts. Martin said the congregation has offered to keep paying its existing loan until it can refinance, but that OneUnited refused.

 

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