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OneUnited Bank takes steps to foreclose on Roxbury church

More than a year into a legal battle with a famous black Boston church, OneUnited Bank is taking steps to foreclose on the Charles Street African Methodist Episcopal Church, its customer of several years.

OneUnited last week ran a notice in a Boston newspaper announcing that it plans to auction off the historic Roxbury church. That was how the church learned of the bank’s intentions, said the Rev. Gregory G. Groover Sr., in an interview.

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“It’s unfortunate that they had to resort to that,’’ Groover said today. “This is clearly a result of their anger around the litigation. Or maybe it was simply to humiliate and embarrass us.”

Groover vowed that the church would find an answer and would not allow the foreclosure to go forward. The battle between OneUnited -- a minority-owned bank that built its business lending to churches and other community institutions – and the Charles Street AME erupted in public in 2010, when the bank sued the church for failing to repay a $4 million construction loan. The church was building a nearby Roxbury Renaissance Center, to host community events, and fell behind on its payments during the recession.

As bad timing would have it, OneUnited ran into trouble at the same time. The bank lost millions of dollars on investments in 2008 amid the financial crisis and sought a $12 million government bailout, which it has yet to repay. The bank has been coming down hard on commercial customers like the Charles Street AME as it’s tried to shore up its balance sheet.

OneUnited, in a statement, said, “We applaud the important role that Charles Street A.M.E. Church plays in our community. As a Community Development Financial Institution focused on serving low-to-moderate income neighborhoods of greater Boston, OneUnited Bank recognizes the impact the economy is having on our small businesses and not-for-profits.” Bank spokespeople did not comment specifically on the foreclosure proceedings. The statement also said, “We are flexible in our efforts to assist borrowers, while remaining consistent with the safe and sound banking practices. We continue to be hopeful that our efforts will result in a stronger community.”

Groover said the bank has refused to take calls from church officials or their lawyer for months. Meanwhile, the church has continued to make monthly payments on the commercial loan (which is separate from the Renaissance Center construction loan) he said.

“This church, without fail, never missed a payment,’’ Groover said. But in December, the bank returned a payment to the church, in yet another sign of the unraveling relationship. “It’s senseless. It really is.”

Groover said he was confident the church would not lose it’s property. “We’re confident,’’ he said.

Beth Healy can be reached at bhealy@globe.com.
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