Bailout should aid homeowners as well

September 25, 2008


Protesters hold up signs as lawmakers, seen in background, question financial leaders, not pictured, at a Senate Banking Committee hearing this week on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Protesters hold up signs as lawmakers, seen in background, question financial leaders, not pictured, at a Senate Banking Committee hearing this week on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Although it's bad-mannered to crow when you've been right about something, consumer advocates, civil rights organizations and community housing groups should be shouting, "We told you so!"

The Neighborhood Assistance Corp. of America, ACORN, NeighborWorks, Center for Responsible Lending and the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, to name a few, were screaming about the subprime mess and predatory lending practices before it became prime-time news here and around the world.

These organizations long ago predicted that a crisis in the housing market would result in a staggering increase in foreclosures and cause the largest loss of personal net worth since the Great Depression.

Now these folks are seething because the proposed bailout of financial institutions fails to include any provisions to directly help the people at the center of this crisis. To fund the bailout, $700 billion of Treasury securities would be issued to finance the purchase of troubled mortgage assets.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson have argued that we need an immediate fix to stem further market losses and can't afford any tinkering with the administration's proposal.

But Congress has to find a concrete and long-term way to help individual homeowners.

"If the taxpayers - many of them homeowners facing foreclosure - are going to bail out Wall Street, then they should be given the opportunity to bail themselves out as well," said Nancy Zirkin, executive vice president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

Nonprofit leaders want any bailout bill to include a provision that would give bankruptcy judges the discretion to modify primary mortgages.

"This is an effective way of providing relief to homeowners at no cost to taxpayers," AARP President Bill Novelli wrote in a letter to the leadership of the Senate Banking Committee and House Financial Services Committee.

If bankruptcy court judges could modify people's mortgages, this might give homeowners leverage to compel lenders to restructure loans or face a forced modification in bankruptcy, said Bruce Marks, chief executive of the Neighborhood Assistance Corp. of America.

Marks said Congress should completely reject Paulson's plan.

"This bill should not happen, period," Marks said.

Martin Eakes, chief executive of the Center for Responsible Lending, said the government's plan fails to deal with the root cause of the crisis - families in foreclosure.

"Already we've seen the damage to property values, the job losses, and cities losing their tax base," Eakes said. "If foreclosures continue unabated, there is much more of this ahead."

Eakes and other consumer advocates want any bill to also include a requirement that a financial institution that participates in the federal bailout provides automatic and affordable loan modifications to homeowners facing foreclosure.

Paulson said during a Senate hearing that the bailout isn't ignoring homeowners but rather is intended to remove troubled assets from company balance sheets that have choked off the flow of credit that he said is "vitally important to our economy."

Dawn Weaver, an eighth-grade teacher from Wilmington, N.C., isn't buying Paulson's argument either.

Weaver and her husband refinanced their home in 2005 to pay bills. Her husband was recovering from a heart attack and was out of work. Weaver said she didn't fully understand she was taking out an adjustable rate mortgage with an initial rate of 8.85 that has jumped to 10.375 percent and could ultimately go up as high as 15.85 percent.

"They only talked about the low rate at the beginning," Weaver said during a teleconference orchestrated by several nonprofits.

Within six months of obtaining the mortgage, Weaver was diagnosed with kidney cancer. Weaver said she tried to work something out with her lender before she got behind. She didn't succeed. Her home is now in foreclosure.

"I didn't do anything wrong," Weaver said, her voice shaking a little.

But she did do something wrong. Like so many other homeowners, she signed mortgage papers she didn't understand, pledging to pay for a mortgage that when fully adjusted she couldn't afford.

But Weaver's testimony is nonetheless compelling and shouldn't be dismissed.

What federal officials put before Congress at the beginning of this process isn't fair.

Congress needs to listen to the organizations that knew long ago what was wrong with the way mortgages were being made. They were right then, and they are right now.


jmadison 9 years, 7 months ago

Knowing the government, it will put a surcharge on the mortgage payments of those who have been faithfully paying their debt on time.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 7 months ago

Weaver's situation describes very clearly how we got where we are-- the home mortgage industry was taken over by loan sharks, willing to pray on anyone they could-- including those who are in desperate situations because of ill health-- something that would never happen if there were a single-payer healthcare system.

Deja Coffin 9 years, 7 months ago

He was correct the first time. I know of a few that would qualify for the title of "mortgage bozo".

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