Subprime America -- let me count the ways

November 07, 2007 by susan
Map, America

I've been thinking a lot lately about the trauma of losing your home, and how those who lost theirs to fire in San Diego were treated so much more sympathetically in the media than those who lost theirs to floods in New Orleans.
That got me to thinking about the great silent losses that are sweeping the country, with no 24 hour coverage from Anderson Cooper, or visits from President Bush or temporary shelter being offered in the local sports arena.
And that's the huge number of people losing their homes to foreclosure. A total of 446,726 homes nationwide were involved in some sort of foreclosure activity between July and September of this year, up 100 percent from the same period a year ago. That's one foreclosure for every 196 households nationally -- but higher in certain states like good old Florida with one in 95.
More, of course.

As the NYTimes detailed in the November 4th Week in Review, these losses are concentrated in neighborhoods that are largely black, Hispanic, or both. Why? Many reasons, of course, but in large part because predatory lenders, who once refused to give loans to blacks and minorities in a common practice called red-lining, saw the folly of their ways. So they flopped that practice over and set out to snare unqualified buyers into mortgages with low initial "teaser" rates, which they could then sell to bigger lenders. But of course the low rates didn't hold, even a small upward tic meant payments that couldn't be met.

Okay, those losing their homes to foreclosure were not forced into these risky loans, but their judgement was clouded -- by the ingrained desire for a stable home, and by those who misled them.

Seems to me the same can be said about those who built houses in a recognized fire zone, or beneath sea level. (Though in New Orleans many of the flooded houses were older housing stock, and the only houses many poor and black people could afford.)

Those in Malibu and San Diego received immediate federal assistance and relief and fawning media attention, even though arguably they suffered some judgement lapses of their own for choosing to live where they did.

Those in New Orleans and on the Gulf coast received immediate -- oh, never mind. They received promises. And ridiculous scam-prone injections of cash, a sort of Chalabi in Baghdad approach. And stay tuned, a heckuva a plan will arrive soon.

But who is there for the long-time homeowners, persuaded by banking cons to remortgage, and now losing their lifetime investment? Who is there for the first time homeowner, one step up from welfare, losing her children's dream, her furniture piled on the sidewalk?

When homes are lost due to a natural disaster, with a little man-made tinkering thrown in, even gubmint hating Repubs leap to provide relief, cut red tape, and help the homeowner rebuild. Or at least they say they will.

But when homes are lost due to human failure, with a lot of bank-made tinkering thrown in, few are there to help. And on top of losing your home and your dreams, you lose your dignity and your pride.

But, Dems to the rescue. This week Barney Frank and the House Financial Services Committee will propose a bill to curb abusive mortgage lending. It also allows victims of illegal lending scams to sue for relief -- although in some cases, not until they've already last their house. But mostly it's a good bill, one more reminder why having Dems like Frank in charge of key committees is so important.

PS. Barb and David continue to be in treatment limbo. They'll go to Mayo next week to plan the course of action. Please continue to keep them in your thoughts.

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