ATLANTA – An historic black church which was facing foreclose has been given a last-ditch reprieve from eviction.
The Higher Ground Empowerment Center has been at the heart of the northwest Vine City neighborhood since 1903, one of Atlanta’s most under-resourced communities.
HGEC’s Pastor Dexter Johnson says the church offers much-needed programs and services, including tutoring, food and clothes to the needy, in a community blighted by boarded up homes.
Problems started when the church took out a big loan in 2008 to repair damage from a tornado that ripped apart the property. Its membership has also declined over the years, leaving it with less money to keep up with payments.
Higher Ground tried to refinance with BB&T, but the bank opened up foreclosure proceedings and threatened to evict the church in just seven days if it did not come up with the money fast.
“I still believe our church is going to be here because it is a 108-year-old church,” Johnson said in an interview with CBS Atlanta. “We’re not looking for a free ride.”
The church and the bank were scheduled to attend a hearing Thursday afternoon, though the day before Johnson called on Occupy Atlanta and asked for help. Activists set up camp outside the church Thursday morning and that same day BB&T called off the hearing indefinitely and agreed to work with the church’s lawyers.
“We are working with the church on a resolution that will allow them to remain in the building,” said a spokesman for BB&T. “They’re going to work with us to come up with a new payment plan,” Johnson said.
The church said Occupy Atlanta was the main reason for the bank’s change of heart. Protestors say they won’t leave the grounds of the church until BB&T strikes a deal.
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