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Communities to banks: You can fix housing crisis, economy

Banks caused the housing crisis — and the financial crash which threw millions out of their jobs — and they can fix it, according to a new report.

By writing down underwater mortgages to market value – using a relatively small portion of bailout financing they’ve received – banks could put a floor on the housing market, stem spiraling foreclosures, and provide the economy with a badly-needed second stimulus, creating millions of jobs over the next decade, the New Bottom Line Campaign argues in a new analysis.

It was released in Chicago last week at a vacant home on the West Side that’s being rehabbed under a new program — which demonstrates how community pressure can force banks to step up and take responsibility, organizers say.

(And it came out the same day Mayor Rahm  Emanuel announced a foreclosure recovery program that includes not one single community on the hard-hit West Side.)

The South Austin Coalition, one of nearly a thousand community organizations nationwide (including Chicago-based National Peoples Action) in the New Bottom Line Campaign, released the report at a home in the Austin community that’s being rehabbed by the Westside Health Authority.

Financing comes from a $2.4 million community restoration fund, won after a long campaign by the Coalition to Save Community Banking that targeted U.S. Bank after it took over the locally-owned Park National Bank in 2009.

WHA is rehabbing three homes in Austin – employing ex-offenders to do the work – and Housing Helpers is rehabbing three homes in Maywood in the first phase of the fund’s operation.  It’s a small-scale success that points to what’s needed on a far grander scale, organizers say.

Second stimulus

According to the NBL report, 23 percent of American homeowners owe a total of $709 billion more on their mortgages than the market value of their homes.  Writing down underwater mortgages to market value with 30-year fixed-rate mortgages would cost banks $70 billion a year, money that would instead go into consumer spending.  The average homeowner would see mortgage payments reduced by $6,500 a year.

Injecting that kind of increased consumer demand into the economy would fuel a million additional jobs a year, the report estimates.   It would constitute a second stimulus for the economy, at no cost to taxpayers – indeed, increased economic activity would add to government revenues and reduce the deficit.  NBL calls it the “win-win solution.”

In Illinois, with 483,517 underwater homeowners (21.7 percent of the total) owing $29 billion more than their homes are worth, NBL’s proposal would create nearly 43,000 new jobs a year, according to the report.

As it is, the housing crisis and jobs crisis continuously reinforce each other, creating a vicious cycle, according to the report. Federal foreclosure programs, focused largely on protecting banks (and shying away from principal reduction), have fallen far short. Economic stimulus efforts have averted freefall but failed to spur sufficient growth.

“Working families across the country have seen their home values plummet, have had their life savings wiped clean, have been powerless to help when their loved ones lost their jobs, and in too many cases watched helplessly while they lost their homes to banks that continue to post billion-dollar profits,” according to the report.

And banks are sitting on unprecedented cash reserves, with the top six banks reporting $1.64 trillion.

Banks can afford it

Writing down underwater mortgages would help investors who back mortgage loans, who typically come out ahead when foreclosures are avoided with loan mods including principal reduction (mortgage servicers, on the other hand, take in huge fees in foreclosures, sometimes as high as 75 percent of unpaid principal).  It would put a floor on the falling housing market and remove clouds on mortgage-backed securities held by banks.

“Banks can afford this” — and “we have already paid for it,” with $14 trillion worth of federal bailouts and backstops for banks, some of which has been repaid but much of which never will be, the report argues.

“The banks created the housing crisis with their reckless and predatory lending practices,” NBL argues.  “They should be held accountable for the damage they have done to our economy and be forced to do their part to clean up the mess they have created.”

“It takes community organizations to force the hand of the banks,” said Theresa Welch-Davis of SAC.  “We need aggressive action now that creates a new bottom line for homeowners and the American economy.”

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Category: Austin, banks & credit, economy, foreclosures, housing, jobs

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4 Responses

  1. Jake says:

    Interesting study, but somehow I doubt that banks are in any spot to be writing off mortgages

  2. Mike Henderson says:

    Your idea of hitting the reset button ( and pretend the unbridled greed and irresponsibility that caused the housing crisis in the first place never happened)is stunning on so many levels. Those who push this idea want to skirt the fallout from our reckless behavior. You can’t. The housing crisis is here and we can’t artificially escape the consequences from our behavior. I don’t have the answer. But I do know there is no getting around the consequences of our actions. BTW, the banks did not create this crisis. They ‘merely’ exploited and exacerbated it. It was the well meaning, but foolishness of the Barney franks and bill Clinton’s of the world who pressured Fannie and Freddie to green light mortgages to those who simply did not have the financial wherewithal to take on a mortgage. Yes the banks acted foolishly. But as far as blame goes, there are a host of people and institutions who had their finger in this pot. We need mature, responsible solutions to this crisis. Your idea of hitting the reset button is exactly the kind of thinking that got us into this mess in the first place.

  3. Housing/industrial buildings that have been foreclosed on should be provided to guilds or co-ops as a temproary loan for say three years to give them a chance to get going and in this environment there’s nothing to lose as they are not earning income anyways.

    Modernized craft guilds as a means to revive Detroit and also as a means for remote areas to improve their propects for economic progress in the face of pervasive and mean spirited off-shoring by mainly multi-national corporations to the People’s Republic of China.

    The problem facing western societies is that the current existence of offshore labour on truly a massive scale is a relatively new phenomenom since the fall of the Berlin wall and the PR China’s entry into the WTO. This has allowed those companies with good contacts overseas or by hiring N. Americans from the PRC knowing the language and who to pay the inevitable kickbacks the means of crushing their local rivals without the necessary infrastructure and or the indifference to the implications of their decision to offshore. The vast army of eager to please cheaper labour that isn’t overly concerned with the environmental degredation of their country as well as their blatant exploitation effectively doubles as a club to keep those who haven’t already lost their jobs in the west in line and is effectively morally bankrupt.

    It’s in this environment of managerial bliss that the creative individual is increasingly marginalized and his efforts often muted and in the case of Detroit an entire city. The Wal-Martization of the world means that corporations force inventors and artists to sign humiliating contracts resulting in their essentially handing over the rights to their creations for relatively little in return and without even a guarantee of long term employment with the corporations in turn off-shoring the work to China etc…: the old social contract has ceased to apply.

    There is a great deal at stake as those societies which engage wholeheartedly in creative endeavours stand to be in the best position possible to deal with the plague of off-shoring. Western de-industrialization and a falling birth rate have resulted in a surplus of industrial and educational types of buildings in remote areas (not cities -but is so in Detroit- as they end up becoming Condos) to be available in some parts of the world and are frequently owned by the state. My solution would be to provide these buildings to a new type of social construct called CRAFT GUILDS that would have temporary non-profit status for 3 to 5 years in order to permit them to acquire the equipment, machinery, educational liasons and the infrastructure necessary to get started and off the ground. The ideal craft guild would be an assemblage of architects, engineers, artists and production technicians who would enter upon mutually beneficial contracts respecting their individual rights and not excessive in their demands and allowing for both horizontal and vertical growth. It would be unwise to limit this idea to merely arts and crafts and furniture etc… as I see this idea being applicable to the full range of economic activities especially high technology activities such as electronic production and pharmaceutical production and could allow western societies to effectively compete against the military dictatorship that is the PR China.

    Patents, copyrights and designs would be owned by the their creators with a 10 % royalty fee for the first invention reverting to the guild in order to enable the continuity of the guild’s existence. Guild types can cover the entire spectrum of creative activities but the special status of the modernized guilds would be dependant upon their being engaged in CREATING goods and or services that are not readily available and not simply being job shops which in reality would have them compete with existing companies and merely be subsidized competition and would in effect be moving work from one entity to another. It should also be an objective of the guilds to disavow any government assistance whatsoever for the building and renovation assistance as donations would be tax deductible and in effect corporations would be helpfull to these entities as they will be eager to gain tax credits that could acrue from the donation to these temporary non-profit entities instead of simply scrapping fully funtional equipment. Donations in the form of machinery and construction materials which typically end up in the scrap yard would finally put to a halt the retardation of fully functional equipment being brought to the scrap yard because the tax code makes it more beneficial to declare fully functional machinery unusable through the depreciation aspect of the tax code and thus scrapping them with the supreme irony of their winding up in the PR China.

    I believe these guild can work within the capitalist system and even creates greater flexibility for it to survive and yet be more equitable with they’re simply being another construct such as the corporation or the permanent non-profit entity. Modernized guilds can offer society the benefits of invention and creative production in order to combat the flood of cheap imports produced by having limited production capabilites as part of the guilds’ structure. Prototypes, proof of concepts and short production runs in the least should be possible and even existing corporations can benefit from the concept as they can farm out their research and development to these entities. The ideal model would be something like Bauhaus type assemblage of creative people creating movements.

    Marketing can be carried out via the internet through Kijiji, cragslist, Ebay etc…. in order to bypass the lowest price is the law of Wal-Mart etc… This would permit a closed loop between the creator and the end consumer thus guaranteeing the integrity of the design and manufacturing process and at least allowing the possibility of options for consumers. A seal of the guilds approval along with details as to how the product or service was created or manufactured could be given providing the consumer that cares the peace of mind that he/she is part of the solution rather than a part of the problem. All members of the potential guilds should have a proven track record of creativity without any financial assistance completely independant of any institution so as to demonstrate the ability to think outside the box and survive with limited or even no resources as anything is possible with government handouts such as what is pervasive in Quebec, but things get far more difficult without easy handouts. This is about creativity and not getting on a gravy train, the soft life is for those hiding out in universities or think tanks pontificating as opposed to being in the front lines trying to repulse the onslaught of unethically and environmentally unsoundly produced items from the PR China, it’s tough love, sink or swim.

    The original craft guilds didn’t have a steady stream of government handouts to rely on and yet they managed to bring about the basis from which the industrial revolution sprung forth. The impact of creativity should not be underestimated as it has taken a single mother scraping by in England to being a billionaire. How many other J.K. Rowlings have yet to see their creations see light of day due to the narrow limitations of what creatively challenged managers deem will work or not. I believe modernized guilds can be a medium by which society can be enriched and the rights of the creative better promoted and protected. This way the current prevalence of societies begging and bribing corporations to invent things and employ people in the western world when in reality they are merely re-inventing the wheel and buying off the shelf items instead of doing “actual” research and development can be offset by a system that gives little but receives a great deal. Large corporations are getting money from all levels of government on the pretense they are developing with the intent to produce locally but there is enormous off-shoring of even what little research is actually done, how much of this is copied and pasted from utside sources and called Canadian research and then asking for the handouts. The entire structure of how corporations take advantage of government handouts is nothing short of scandalous with the likes of Bombardier, Pratt & Whitney, General Electric, Rolls Royce et-al leading the way. Large corporations talk a good game about free market capitalism but they are so hooked on government steroids that they are very far removed from free market capitalism and there needs to be injected into the system a grass roots people serving system to counter the callous indifference of global capitalism and it’s pathetic junky and mafia (in terms of who they hire) like moralities regarding their crass pitting of one jurisdiction against another for the purposes of extracting the biggest handouts. This is far removed from the capitalism of the 1960′s and beforehand, it’s what I call extortion: give us handouts or we’ll move the plant to China, give us excessive research and development handouts even though there are no noticeable differences in product development of processes etc.. and give us interest free or no interest loans that more likely than not will not be repaid. The system is severely corrupted as to make it a jury rigged assemblage of incoherant and conflicting messages that are sent to people as to how they can be truly effective and constructive citizens. Thanking you in advance for your consideration, Robert Hennecke.

  4. [...] a serious drag on the economy, these groups argue, taking hundreds of billions of dollars out of the consumer economy – and a “stealth [...]

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