Tag Archives: Mortgage crisis

LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: Balancing the Budget on the Backs of the Homeless

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As a news junkie and student of the human condition, it takes a lot to make my blood come to a full boil. It takes even more to make me sympathize with wealthy corporations. Hand it to Gov. Jerry Brown — he managed to pull off both feats with the news that he diverted $350 million from California’s share of the 2012 national mortgage settlement in order to reduce the state’s 2013 budget deficit.

Now that California is enjoying a budget surplus, a coalition of homeowner advocates and religious organizations has filed suit against the state to force Brown to restore the money.

Back in 2008-09, the real estate bubble burst, taking the global economy with it. By many measures, especially real unemployment and median wages, we still haven’t recovered.

By 2010 a political consensus had formed. Though politicians were partly to blame, the worst offenders were the giant “too big to fail” banks that had knowingly approved loans to homebuyers who couldn’t afford to pay them back, sold bundles of junk mortgage derivatives to unsuspecting investors and secretly hedged their bets against their clients. After the house of cards came down, they played the other side. They cashed in their chips, refused to refinance mortgages even though interest rates had fallen and deployed “robo-signers” to illegally evict hundreds of thousands of homeowners — including people who had never missed a payment — to ding them with outrageous late fees on their way to profitable (for the banks) foreclosure.

On the Left, anger at the banks coalesced around the Occupy Wall Street movement. Though less widely reported, anti-bank sentiment also found a home in the Tea Party.

Politics ultimately play out in the courts. Lawsuits filed by state attorney generals forced the banks to the bargaining table. In 2012 they agreed to cough up $26 billion as penance.

The money was supposed to compensate people who had lost their homes and to help those who were hanging on by a thread avoid eviction, either by refinancing at lower rates or writing down principal to reflect lower real estate prices.

Enter the governors.

Jerry Brown wasn’t unique. Cash-hungry states siphoned off half of their share of the mortgage settlement to plug holes in their budgets.

We will never know how many families became homeless as a result.

The more you think about it, the more disgusting it is. Obviously it’s important for the state to get its fiscal house in order. But not at the expense of those least able to bear the burden. Desperate families lost — and are still losing — their homes so that holders of California’s state debt, much of it held by the same banks who caused the mortgage crisis, can be repaid.

This outrage is not without precedent.

Rather than the anti-smoking and health campaigns they were supposed to launch, the states siphoned off 47% of the $7.9 billion they received from the 1998 tobacco settlement for general budget purposes.

How many kids might have been reached by tobacco education programs that never got off the ground? How many will die of lung cancer? “Fifteen years after the tobacco settlement, our latest report finds that states are continuing to spend only a miniscule portion of their tobacco revenues to fight tobacco use,” the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said in 2014.  In Fiscal Year 2014, the states will collect $25 billion in revenue from the tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes, but will spend only 1.9 percent of it – $481.2 million – on programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit. This means the states are spending less than two cents of every dollar in tobacco revenue to fight tobacco use.”

This is the kind of behavior that prompts conservatives to characterize these settlements as government shakedowns of big business. It’s hard to disagree. As slimy as the banksters were and are — they’re sabotaging political solutions to the foreclosure crisis — they’re just greedy bastards doing what greedy bastards do. Public officials, on the other hand, are supposed to be on our side.

What Brown and his fellow governors have done with the mortgage settlement money is even more nauseating.

 

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Another Obama Sellout

Mortgage Settlement a Sad Joke

Joe Nocera, the columnist currently challenging Tom Friedman for the title of Hackiest Militant Centrist Hack—it’s a tough job that just about everyone on The New York Times op-ed page has to do—loves the robo-signing settlement announced last week between the Obama Administration, 49 states and the five biggest mortgage banks. “Two cheers!” shouts Nocera.

Too busy to follow the news? Read Nocera. If he likes something, it’s probably stupid, evil, or both.

As penance for their sins—securitizing fraudulent mortgages, using forged deeds to foreclose on millions of Americans and oh, yeah, borking the entire world economy—Ally Financial, Bank of America, Citibank, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo have agreed to fork over $5 billion in cash. Under the terms of the new agreement they’re supposed to reduce the principal of loans to homeowners who are “underwater” on their mortgages—i.e. they owe more than their house is worth—by $17 billion.

Some homeowners will qualify for $3 billion in interest refinancing, something the banks have resisted since the ongoing depression began in late 2008.

What about those who got kicked out of their homes illegally? They split a pool of $1.5 billion.

Sounds impressive. It’s not. Mark Zuckerberg is worth $45 billion.

“That probably nets out to less than $2,000 a person,” notes The Times. “There’s no doubt that the banks are happy with this deal. You would be, too, if your bill for lying to courts and end-running the law came to less than $2,000 per loan file.”

Readers will recall that I paid more than that for a speeding ticket. 68 in a 55.

This is the latest sellout by a corrupt system that would rather line the pockets of felonious bankers than put them where they belong: prison.

Remember TARP, the initial bailout? Democrats and Republicans, George W. Bush and Barack Obama agreed to dole out $700 billion in public—plus $7.7 trillion funneled secretly through the Fed—to the big banks so they could “increase their lending in order to loosen credit markets,” in the words of Senator Olympia Snowe, a Maine Republican.

Never happened.

Three years after TARP “tight home loan credit is affecting everything from home sales to household finances,” USA Today reported. “Many borrowers are struggling to qualify for loans to buy homes…Those who can get loans need higher credit scores and bigger down payments than they would have in recent years. They face more demands to prove their incomes, verify assets, show steady employment and explain things such as new credit cards and small bank account deposits. Even then, they may not qualify for the lowest interest rates.”

Financial experts aren’t surprised. TARP was a no-strings-attached deal devoid of any requirement that banks increase lending. You can hardly blame the bankers for taking advantage. They used the cash—money that might have been used to help distressed homeowners—to grow income on their overnight “float” and issue record raises to their CEOs.

Next came Obama’s “Home Affordable Modification Program” farce. Another toothless “voluntary” program, HAMP asked banks to do the same things they’ve just agreed to under the robo-signing settlement: allow homeowners who are struggling to refinance and possibly reduce their principals to reflect the collapse of housing prices in most markets.

Voluntary = worthless.

CNN reported on January 24th: “The HAMP program, which was designed to lower troubled borrowers’ mortgage rates to no more than 31% of their monthly income, ran into problems almost immediately. Many lenders lost documents, and many borrowers didn’t qualify. Three years later, it has helped a scant 910,000 homeowners—a far cry from the promised 4 million.”

Or the 15 million who needed help.

As usual, state-controlled media is too kind. Banks didn’t “lose” documents. They threw them away.

One hopes they recycled.

I wrote about my experience with HAMP: Chase Home Mortgage repeatedly asked for, received, confirmed receiving, then requested the same documents. They elevated the runaround to an art. My favorite part was how Chase wouldn’t respond to queries for a month, then request the bank statement for that month. They did this over and over. The final result: losing half my income “did not represent income loss.”

It’s simple math: in 67 percent of cases, banks make more money through foreclosure than working to keep families in their homes.

This time is different, claims the White House. “No more lost paperwork, no more excuses, no more runaround,” HUD secretary Shaun Donovan said February 9th. The new standards will “force the banks to clean up their acts.”

Don’t bet on it. The Administration promises “a robust enforcement mechanism”—i.e. an independent monitor. Such an agency, which would supervise the handling of million of distressed homeowners, won’t be able to handle the workload according to mortgage experts. Anyway, it’s not like there isn’t already a law. Law Professor Alan White of Valparaiso University notes: “Much of this [agreement] is restating obligations loan servicers already have.”

Finally, there’s the issue of fairness. “Underwater” is a scary, headline-grabbing word. But it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Tens of millions of homeowners have seen the value of their homes plummet since the housing crash. (The average home price fell from $270,000 in 2006 to $165,000 in 2011.) Those who are underwater tended not to have had much equity in their homes in the first place, having put down low downpayments. Why single them out for special assistance? Shouldn’t people who owned their homes free and clear and those who had significant equity at the beginning of crisis get as much help as those who lost less in the first place? What about renters? Why should people who were well-off enough to afford to buy a home get a payoff ahead of poor renters?

The biggest fairness issue of all, of course, is one of simple justice. If you steal someone’s house, you should go to jail. If your crimes are company policy, that company should be nationalized or forced out of business.

Your victim should get his or her house back, plus interest and penalties.

You shouldn’t pay less than a speeding ticket for stealing a house.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL

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The American Hallucination

A wag in the New York Times pointed out that the current ARM mortgage crisis owes at least as much to predatory borrowing as it does to predatory lending (which is admittedly a huge problem). I own a home now, but I can’t help wondering why renters–people who can’t afford to buy a home–should pay higher taxes to support those who own? It’s already pretty crazy that the Army Corps of Engineers spends millions to shore up beaches to save homes owned by multimillionaires.

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