For many Americans, protecting your home just gets harder and harder. Just ask Gloria. After trying to refinance her home in 2004, she and her husband were saddled with an adjustable rate mortgage. Now, thanks to rising payments, they’re currently fighting foreclosure.

Gloria’s story is hardly unique. Thanks to the banking industry’s predatory lending practices and unapologetic greed, home foreclosure threatens millions of American families across the nation. While some parts of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area were spared, Prince George’s County is a glaring exception. The foreclosure rate in the county has skyrocketed in the last year.

Homeowners in Prince George’s County are facing the worst crisis in decades. Home values have plummeted. In 2009, the county recorded 13,412 foreclosure filings, which counted for 31 percent of Maryland’s foreclosure filings. The county, which is predominantly African American, is a stark contrast to the rest of the metro area, where home values have remained steady.

It’s no accident that these communities are suffering. According to congressional testimony by Atlanta Legal Aid in 2000, banks specifically targeted African-American communities for bad mortgages.

As the number of African-American homeowners swelled over the past decade, big banks preyed on a new population of eager homeowners who longed to be a part of the American Dream. Buoyed by rising prosperity over the last decade, African Americans make up a large percentage of the first-time homeowners in Prince George’s County – and a large percentage of those homeowners were denied access to conventional loans.

In fact, in May, the Center for Responsible Lending released a report stating that African-American families were targeted for higher-cost subprime mortgages and pushed into more expensive, riskier loans.

The result? The homeowners of Prince George’s County are losing their homes to foreclosure, even as the rest of the area remains relatively unshaken by the mortgage crisis.

But homeowners across America are facing the prospect of foreclosure in an economy that is anything but forgiving. And there is a pressing need to address the problems that led to the housing crisis in the first place.

That begins with the need to outlaw the predatory practices that allow banks to con people into bad mortgages and take away their homes. But we also need to change how we regulate the housing market. We need to combat racial profiling among lenders and address the question of whether joblessness should necessarily lead to homelessness.

But the foreclosure crisis shows how big banks and Wall Street were able to lie and cheat working people into a crisis that impacts all areas of our lives. Because it wasn’t just homes that people lost. Millions are without work. African Americans nationwide are at an astounding 15.4 percent jobless rate. And it’s the same crooks who cooked the housing books that destroyed the good jobs.

Big banks and Wall Street need to be held accountable for the mess they created, and pay for what it takes to get our economy back on track. That means helping fund the creation of good jobs, and stop opposing common-sense reforms that will ensure their greed can’t crash the economy again.

We need to create an economy where people are not only able to buy a home, but are able to keep it. To achieve this, we need fundamental changes to our economy – changes that would ensure that Americans, not big businesses and banks, are protected when the economy goes into free-fall because of their bad decisions.
And District and Maryland residents must remind their legislators that the banks must be held accountable for the homes that have been lost and the communities that have been destroyed.

Arlene Holt Baker is the executive vice president of the AFL-CIO.