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David M. Abromowitz

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Is There a Wikipedia to Go Dark for Homeowners?

Posted: 02/ 6/2012 5:44 pm

When Congress was on the brink of pushing through legislation that Internet advocates opposed, over four million online signatures were gathered quickly. Congress relented.

Today, millions of American households are poised to benefit directly from the opportunity to reduce mortgage payments, avoid foreclosure, build up some savings, or have a few thousand dollars to spend a little more freely. Yet while even conservative economists believe that easier refinancings will boost the economy and help millions more families -- a major part of Congress is ready to say a big, "No, let's not even try."

Not a day elapsed after President Obama outlined a more ambitious set of proposals to let average families take advantage of the same low interest rates that have benefited upper income households and large corporations before Speaker Boehner among others declared the idea dead on arrival.

"All [the refinancing plan] does is delay the clearing of the market," Speaker Boehner told reporters. "As soon as the market clears and we understand where the prices really are -- [that] will be the most important thing we can do in order to improve home values around the country."

Saying millions of families should wait until the "market clears" is the modern equivalent of "let them eat cake." Clearing the market is an economist's term for letting the tidal wave of foreclosures continue. But unchecked foreclosures drag down everyone's home values, let vacant homes pile up in neighborhoods, and force families to choose between struggling to make needlessly high mortgage payments or become another default statistic with ruined credit.

It is time to ask lenders and investors to shoulder some of the burden, and Congress should be taking the lead on this, not finding objections. As my colleagues at the Center for American Progress and I explain in detail, the principles of accountability to avoid more foreclosures -- especially for families who haven't missed payments -- is at the core of the administration's expanded proposal for making refinancing easier.

Families with mortgages, however, are not an easily organized constituency. Unlike the protesters most engaged in social media who were the bulwark of those moved to criticize SOPA and PIPA, borrowers are not necessarily the internet generation nor an easily reached interest group.

But given the politics of "embrace the opposite of what Obama proposes," homeowners struggling to keep making payments could use a Wiki dark day of their own. And so could the tens of millions of others who live next door, as no neighborhood really wants another foreclosure.