Swept Up In City Tax Sales, Black Churches In Baltimore Are at Risk of Losing Property To California Investor

Pastor Mark James continues the ministry founded by his mother, but after it got behind on bills owed to the city, an investor from California foreclosed on the church. (Amy Davis, Ulysses Muñoz / Baltimore Sun)

The Rev. Ryan Preston Palmer sat at the front of a mostly empty chapel in his large Gothic church, his Bible open to the Book of Ruth. Sunlight streamed through broken windows, illuminating the pale pink paint peeling from the walls in clumps.

The church building at the corner of North Avenue and St. Paul Street is vast, and Palmer says it could draw people together for missionary work, evangelism and community revitalization.

But that vision is in jeopardy.

On a recent Sunday, 10 people sat scattered before Palmer — another 30 seats waited for worshipers who never showed — listening as the minister described the plight of the Seventh Metro Church.

More than $6,000 in unpaid water bills sent the century-old Baptist church to tax auction last year. A California investor bought the debt, and is now seeking to foreclose on the $1.4 million building.

If Palmer can come up with the money to pay off the debt — plus interest, and the investor’s legal fees —the tiny congregation could still save its home, he said. But time is running out, and Palmer asked the churchgoers to look to divine intervention.

“Well, Seventh, we are in a bind that we can’t fix,” Palmer said. “It’s not the ninth hour, it’s the eleventh hour.

“This looks like a job for Jesus. At noon every day this week, let’s pray: ‘God help us to save this building and build your church.'”

The church’s predicament is not unique. Records show that in the past three years, investor Christopher Bryan has used limited-liability corporations to buy liens on at least 26 predominantly African-American churches in the city’s annual tax auction. He has filed papers to foreclose on half a dozen, and took final ownership of one last month.

Bryan, too, has a vision.

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SOURCE: The Baltimore Sun – Ian Duncan and Yvonne Wenger

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