Officials say there's an affordable housing crisis as a Section 8 voucher program ends. (Courtesy photo)
**FILE** Officials say there's an affordable housing crisis as a Section 8 voucher program ends. (Courtesy photo)

When Willie Flowers recently became president of the NAACP Maryland State Conference, he admitted one of his main duties will be to constantly remind people about the civil rights organization’s role to help the Black community.

Although local leaders say membership hasn’t decreased, the goal remains for more people to join the 110-year-old organization.

“We don’t lack relevance, but we lack members to stand up for folks who need help and haven’t been born yet,” said Flowers of Howard County. “The folks who came before us were fighting for us. Our forefathers didn’t know what we needed. They wanted us to be better off. You know how deep that is? That’s the spirit we have to reclaim. Just focus on Black folks seven days out of the week.”

The NAACP state conference, which organizes programs, assists local branches and advocacy efforts from a statewide perspective, plans to hold a town hall Jan. 18.

Beside the date signifying the birthday weekend of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the discussion will be held in Prince George’s County. Arrangements on the specific location are still being determined.

One major topic of focus in the majority Black jurisdiction: housing. Based on research led by Elizabeth Johnson, who started her position as the state conference’s housing chair Dec. 2, at least 35,000 homes in the county have been lost to foreclosure since the financial crisis of 2008.

“Housing will be the catalyst … because everybody wants to have a roof over their head,” said Johnson of Temple Hills. “Housing touches every tentacle of your life.”

Johnson also serves as executive director of Strategic Housing Solutions Inc., a nonprofit organization established last year partners with the Prince George’s NAACP branch to help fight foreclosures.

The information attendees can receive includes the meaning of predatory lending, role of a servicer and documents to look for when seeking to purchase a home.

The most important document a homeowner needs, Johnson said, is “the note,” or a document which proves a homeowner owes money but should receive it back after making a final mortgage payment.

She simplified it this way: “It is like a mortgage burning ceremony at a Black church. [Church officials] were burning the note to show the property is paid for.”

Johnson has studied housing for five years as the housing chair for the Prince George’s branch. But she also suffered through the housing dilemma after she lost her custom-built home in St. Mary’s County.

“I lost my house to these bottom-feeders,” said Johnson, who says financial institutions continue to harm Black homeowners in Prince George’s and other minority communities. “I want to help people get through this housing crisis.”

Meanwhile, Prince George’s branch president Bob Ross said more grassroots efforts will be made in 2020.

For instance, he said leaders and branch members plan to greet people at Metro stations and visit various neighborhoods to explain the organization’s advocacy “needed more than ever in this political climate.”

One major objective will be to gain up to 10,000 new members.

“We should have a third of the 900,000 residents to be members of the NAACP,” Ross said. “If you don’t ask, you don’t get. We are going to start asking. We always want to help, but we need the community’s help as well.”

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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