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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Prayer for the Foreclosure Crisis

I gave the invocation for a gathering of homeowners and organizers from fifteen states who met with Attorney General Tom Miller of Iowa.  Miller is leading a task force of the fifty state attorneys general who are investigating fraud and abuse in the foreclosure process.  Here is the prayer I offered.

God of all,

We come today with hearts that are heavy, yet hopeful.
Our hearts are heavy because
Your people cry out for the lack of justice.
Still, we come with hope because
We know the God who is a Waymaker.

Give us the clarity of your servant Isaiah
Who named the causes of economic collapse
Twenty-eight centuries ago--
The failed economy of Jerusalem caused by
The treachery of the powerful
Who had lavishly furnished their multiple homes
With the spoils of the poor.

May there be some like that prophet
Who will arise now,
Even from among this gathering,
To call on misleaders to repent
And do justice.

As you called Isaiah long ago,
We now listen to your calling:
"Come, let us argue it out," says the Lord.
Inspire our conversation,
And guide our feet.

Amen.

References:  Isaiah 3:14-15; Isaiah 5:8-9; Isaiah 1:16-18

Overheard in Des Moines

Here are a few things I heard while working on the foreclosure issue in Des Moines this week.

Gina Gates of San Jose, CA, said that her banker said she could get her home out of the foreclosure process if she would give them another $40,000.  When she asked for the agreement in writing, they said, "We don't put anything in writing."  Then they withdrew the agreement on the spot.

Peggy Mears of Los Angeles said, "When Bernie Madoff stole from rich people, he got 150 years on prison.  When bankers steal the homes of working people, they get millions of dollars in bonuses."

Ken Kelley of Antioch, CA, said, "If homeowners make a mistake on their mortgages, we lose everything.  But if banks make a mistake on our mortgages, we still lose everything."

Attorney General Tom Miller of Iowa responded to a question about criminal prosecution of fraud and other crimes in mortgage foreclosures, "We will put people in jail."

Push the Reset Button on Housing

That's what Gerald Taylor of North Carolina United Power keeps saying:  "We need to push the reset button on the housing market."  The economy got thoroughly messed up by the speculative, reckless practices of the mortgage industry.  The government responded by bailing them out.  They got their derivative market reset.  They get to borrow money for virtually zero per cent interest.  AIG got to push the reset button.  GM got to push the reset button.

But the banks don't want to give the rest of us a chance.  In a mess they willingly helped to make, they got off the hook.  The winners got to buy up their competitors for cents on the dollar.  They were allowed to voluntarily find ways to help homeowners, unemployed workers, pensioners whose incomes evaporated, and other victims of the economic crisis.  But they don't want to do it.

They string families along with delays and lost paperwork, offering loan modifications while simultaneously working full steam, even fraudulently, to move the foreclosure process forward.  Attorney General Tom Miller of Iowa says that this dual-track process of promising modifications while fast-tracking foreclosure is "insane."  What sense does it make for a family to get a loan modification proposal from the bank on the same day that the bank sold their house?

Give homeowners the same chance.  Reduce mortgage principal across the board to current market values.  That's right--we need across-the-board principal reductions for homeowners underwater, whether they are behind in their payments or not.  Push the reset button.  Make a market correction.  Why?

1.  Unemployed and laid-off workers, retirees depending on pensions, and many homeowners who bought market-rate homes with the assurance that the market was operating in a rational manner (when almost no one--not even the revered Alan Greenspan--recognized the housing bubble) did not come into financial misfortune because of carelessness, greed, or risky behavior.  They were overwhelmed by the economic tsunami from the collapse of the derivative house of cards.  Getting them on their feet and keeping them in their homes will help stabilize the economy.

2.  Foreclosing on one family, then selling the same house for half-price to another family is pure stupidity.  Without all the human trauma and with less paperwork and financial loss, banks could renegotiate reasonable mortgages for the people who are at risk of foreclosure. 

3.  Neighborhoods and communities where many foreclosures have happened become depressed, forcing down the value of other homes.  This puts more homeowners underwater and creates new risks for foreclosures.  Stabilizing neighborhoods by keeping families in their homes and paying modified mortgages is good for all of us.

4.  The so-called moral hazard of adjusting loans in a way that is beneficial to the borrower is a smoke screen.  If banks were being swindled into letting people off the hook who never intended to pay their mortgages, that would be a moral hazard.  But the true moral hazard came when the mortgage industry turned into the anything-goes-mortgage-derivatives orgy.  Even admitting that some homeowners took stupid risks or failed to do due diligence before borrowing, the risks and benefits of mortgage finance have to be shared.  Letting the banks off the hook for their bad debts while holding small borrowers accountable for their debts is an unjust financial system.

So set the reset button for homeowners.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Pillars of the Home Mortgage Business: Fraud, Lies, Theft, and Greed

I know everyone in the home mortgage business is not a thief and liar.  Let me make that plain.

Yet it is clearly the case that the ongoing foreclosure explosion has become a money-and-power-grab by banking executives and major shareholders who will stop at nothing to make sure they don't lose a dime on their crappy mortgages, no matter how many families they have to put out on the street.  First it seemed they were simply unprepared for such a large number of mortgages going underwater.  Then it seemed they were disorganized and careless about people's paperwork.  Of course there was the disingenuous worry about "moral hazard," as if the real moral hazard had not been perpetrated by the financial system that speculated and cast away all standards in order to create more and more billions of mortgage backed securities.  Eventually it became clear that even the mortgage foreclosure cases that were progressing were not undergoing due diligence.  Then cases of "mistaken" foreclosures began to pop up more and more.  Finally, banks began to admit the ways they have been breaking the law in order to prevent loan modifications and recourse against foreclosure proceedings.  What is emerging is a coordinated and willful theft of homes from average homeowners.

So this week organizers from all over the country have converged in Des Moines, Iowa, for a summit on ending the ongoing bank misconduct and lawlessness in home foreclosures.  Gerald Taylor and I represent North Carolina United Power at this meeting, along with people from coast to coast who are fed up with the impunity of banks in the current financial crisis.  Like me, you may wonder, "Why Iowa?"

There are two reasons to meet in Des Moines.  First, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement have a long history of making a difference for working people who are being abused by the powerful.  They are hosting our gathering.  Second, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller is the lead lawyer for the national investigation into illegal banking activity in the foreclosure crisis.  He will meet with our group to discuss the ongoing investigation and the possibilities for working together toward a just resolution of this crisis for all parties.

We want three major elements for a just solution. 
  1. Hold banks accountable for real, transparent loan modifications with borrowers before any foreclosure proceedings, including lowering rates, to keep families in their homes.
  2. Mandate principal reduction for owner-occupied homes as a first-line modification tool.
  3. Include remedies for homeowners who have lost their homes to be reinstated as homeowners or financially compensated for the effects of this unlawful, corrupt system.
 We will not solve it with one meeting, but we hope to see another vital step this week.
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