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Still Waiting for the Rising Tide

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Earlier this week, we heard from more than 100 advocates and Latino community leaders from throughout the nation who participated in a national call hosted by NCLR. Callers expressed the same uncertainty we have heard over the past months from community-based organizations about how the administration intends to repair the housing market and curb hazardous financial products.

Practitioners are asking when to expect help for the modest-income family. Specifically, when will they regain access to credit? Carol Ornelas, the CEO of Visionary Home Builders located in Stockton, California--one of the central fallout zones for foreclosure--pointed out the catch 22 of depriving borrowers of credit while trying to prevent further deterioration in our neighborhoods: "With foreclosure and the inability to purchase new homes, there is still the factor of distressed areas. How do you see this reform helping those areas to gain credit?" This quandary is particularly disturbing as taxpayer dollars fuel the recovery of big banks, yet average families are denied credit and unable to preserve their homes and neighborhoods.

These community representatives have experienced a crisis of confidence. They are skeptical about newly proposed comprehensive solutions when initial targeted efforts--on such issues as loan modifications, for example--have yet to benefit families.

Nonprofit leaders are also left to wonder when we will stop worrying about industry players and start keeping families afloat. When do we stop handing out exemptions that favor specific lenders--such as mortgage brokers, payday loan shops, and auto dealers--preventing them from being held accountable by new regulations? A paper tiger agency whose authority is diluted by a variety of exemptions will benefit no one. With so many types of lending entities responsible for portions of the economic crisis, how can Congress and the administration contemplate crippling the authority of a proposed regulatory body? As Lewis Ameel questioned, "At what point do the White House and Treasury say 'no' [to exemptions]?" Ameel is a Foreclosure Intervention Specialist for HBC Services, which serves Waukesha and Milwaukee, Wisconsin; his experience mirrors that of many practitioners.

The overarching question is whether families will see a positive shift in the tide from the proposed reform. How can the administration ensure that a new agency will be effective when banks and servicers thumb their noses at current initiatives? Nury Márquez the Executive Director of the Hispanic Committee of Virginia brought attention back to the administration's Making Home Affordable program, which is at a veritable standstill. She said it well: "We're still finding that the banks are not being totally responsive to client needs. And there's not a lot of cooperation, collaboration, no responsiveness on their part, which is really prolonging the problem. It's giving people false hope. And in some cases, people are following the rules and then they're told they either don't qualify and have to go directly into foreclosure."

These concerns were discussed today during a subsequent press call. Just as in the national call, leaders expressed the need to revive confidence in the American Dream by protecting consumer rights. Marvin Kelly is the Executive Director of Del Norte in Denver, Colorado. His team of two housing counselors receives 50 to 60 calls daily from people seeking assistance in foreclosure prevention. This does not inspire confidence. For Latinos in particular, reforming the financial system means fair lending, consumer protections, and a blow to predatory financial products. A broad-scale vision to prevent future crisis is a positive and necessary step; however, we mustn't lose sight of the immediate challenges of everyday families and the urgent goal to help them save their homes--a benchmark of which the administration's efforts have so far fallen short.

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