Doing More to Help Subprime Crisis (Op-ed)

February 22, 2008

Original publication: McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Date of publication: February 22, 2008

By Christina Kasica

The Bush administration is not doing nearly enough to help people who are facing foreclosure.

The subprime mortgage crisis is threatening the American dream of homeownership for millions of Americans. The mortgage-lending industry targeted people of color for a majority of these subprime loans, even though many of these customers -- 55 percent-61 percent -- qualified for the usual prime loans, according to Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

Hungry for a new way to make a buck, the financial services industry added features to subprime loans -- exploding adjustable rates, balloon payments, penalties for early repayment -- that hobbled their recipients financially and made it unlikely that they would be able, after a brief honeymoon period, to repay the loans at all.

This was predatory lending at its worst. All told, the subprime lending debacle has caused the greatest loss of wealth to people of color in modern U.S. history. So far, blacks have lost between $72 billion and $93 billion, and Latinos have lost between $76 billion and $98 billion. These figures come from "Foreclosed: State of the Dream 2008," a report from United for a Fair Economy (http://www.faireconomy.org/dream ), where I work.

This housing crisis has shattered the dreams of millions of Americans and devastated the communities where they live. As one house after another in a neighborhood goes vacant, squatters move in, crime spikes, and local stores close. The value of other people's houses in the vicinity, even those who have not taken out subprime loans, deteriorates by thousands of dollars. The local tax base erodes, and this in turn leads to revenue shortfalls for local governments, which are then forced to cut needed services.

The housing crisis has also shaken the world economy, which is now spinning downward with no end in sight.

The short-term gains the mortgage industry reaped barely lasted as long as ice cream in the sun, except, of course, for the individuals that made off with private fortunes. But cleaning up the mess will take the taxpayers and the government a long time.

One response came last week from Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, announcing a 30-day pause in the foreclosure process. This was supposed to help those facing foreclosure negotiate better terms with their lenders. But Paulson did not require the lenders to offer more favorable terms. And 30 days is not nearly enough of a pause for people on the brink of financial ruin.

There are, however, things that can be done.

We need to extend the pause from 30 days to a moratorium that lasts until rates are renegotiated.

We need to regulate the mortgage industry.

We need to provide incentives for developers to build affordable homes.

And we need to dedicate federal estate tax revenues to housing disaster relief.

While we do that, we need to protect the American dream that millions bought into. And we need to rewrite the rules to help the victims of this crisis hold on not just to their homes but also to their hopes.

ABOUT THE WRITER:
Christina Kasica is communications manager for United for a Fair Economy (faireconomy.org), a nonprofit in Boston that spotlights the growing wealth divide. She wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine. Readers may write to the author at: Progressive Media Project, 409 East Main Street, Madison, Wis. 53703; e-mail: pmproj@progressive.org; Web site: www.progressive.org. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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