"While our country is pushing a 'War on Drugs' and locking up brown and black people left and right, there is a war happening in our communities. The same passion and fervor should be applied to putting the Wall Street criminals that destroyed our communities and economy in jail."
So said Rev. Marilyn Pagan-Banks of the community group IIRON when addressing top White House officials during a housing and economic crisis summit late this week. She was just one of dozens of The New Bottom Line homeowners, faith and community leaders who shared their their stories and the practical and bold solutions needed to fix the housing crisis, restore our communities and rebuild our economy.
Their simple and powerful message: "We need a bold solution to the housing crisis and we need it now."
Homeowners and housing advocates from 26 states spoke passionately about how banks have ripped off millions people and drove them into debt and foreclosure, the devastation of communities wrought by big bank fraud and their refusal to do fair negotiations to keep people in their homes. Brigitte Walker, a member of Occupy Homes Atlanta and the Home Defender's League brought the rooms to tears when she shared her story. Walker, a veteran who served our country for 22 years, was injured in Iraq. Upon her return, she fought for years with Chase Bank for a loan modification but to no avail. It wasn't until she occupied her home, did Chase respond with the needed loan modification.
"I fought for my country and I knew I had the right to fight for my home," said Walker. Watch the powerful video of her testimony (and have a tissue ready!).
At the meeting, Pastor Paul Slack of the Minnesota group ISAIAH delivered directly to Gene Sperling, the director of the White House's National Economic Council, the heartwrenching stories gathered by New Bottom Line and Rebuild the Dream from people across the country of people hardest hit by the housing crisis.
In addition to the stories, they laid out the solutions our country so desperately needs, including:
- Principal reduction -- reducing mortgages to fair market value -- is the bold plan needed to fix the housing crisis, create jobs, and reset the economy. This includes replacing Ed DeMarco, interim director of FHFA, which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. DeMarco is obstinately and ideologically opposing principal reduction, despite its proven benefits for homeowners and taxpayers.
- Publicly support the RMBS task force announced during the State Of The Union earlier this year. We need the president vocal about the importance of this joint federal-state investigation in holding Wall Street accountable and providing justice to the millions of Americans damaged by its crimes. We also need all federal agencies, including the Department of Justice, making sure there are enough long-term staff and resources into the investigation.
- A nationwide Homeowner Bill of Rights that enacts strong standards for how banks must work with borrowers in foreclosure, including mandatory principal reduction when it would help the homeowner and investor.
The White House committed to continue to working with homeowners and that is a great first step. As Sperling said, "Recovery is not real recovery until everyone is lifted up." So we need to see real action.
This issue affects millions of homeowners and communities across the country. Don't wipe your brow with a big "whew" if you think you are home free because you aren't underwater. How the housing crisis is dealt with directly impacts how we rebuild our economy -- that means jobs, the strength of our communities and states, and our children's future.
Nationally, there are almost 16 million underwater homes, worth $2.8 trillion, that are $1.2 trillion underwater. Resetting those mortgages to fair market value would save the average underwater homeowner $543 per month, pumping $104 billion into the national economy every year. This would create 1.5 million jobs nationally.
Yet our presidential candidates have not brought housing and its connection to our economy directly into the election debate. That is why New Bottom Line launched the Home is Where the Vote Is campaign to demand President Obama and Governor Romney address these issues immediately on the campaign trail.
Underwater voters are the key swing voters of this election season and the presidential candidates ignore them at their peril. For example, in Nevada -- a major swing state this election season -- 35 percent of eligible voters are underwater. Thinks about it this way. There are 614,987 eligible underwater voters in Nevada. President Obama won Nevada in 2008 with 533,736 votes.
So what can you do? Watch this video of underwater voters speaking directly to the presidential candidates and join them in calling for the housing crisis and its connection economy be addressed by our presidential candidates.
We are looking to the candidates who wish to be our nation's next president to tell us, the American people, how they are going to fix the housing crisis and restore our economy. It's time they speak out.
Follow Tracy Van Slyke on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@tracyvs