A home mortgage office in Springfield, Illinois. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
You can’t talk about poverty without talking about the practices of the big banks, including their continuing refusal to stem the foreclosure crisis through mortgage principal reductions.
Consider this: Latinos lost 66 percent of their household wealth after the housing bubble burst, and African-American households lost 53 percent. Nearly 12 million families—disproportionately people of color—have either lost their homes or are currently in foreclosure, and another 16 million are underwater, owing more on their mortgages than their homes are worth.
Communities are decimated by boarded up houses and vacant lots, declining property values and the consequent loss of state and local revenues, and fewer opportunities to weather and recover from financial hardship. A new study from the Urban Institute indicates that white families now average six times the wealth of African-American and Latino families.
So when US Bank executives fled Minneapolis two weeks ago to hold their annual shareholders meeting in what they believed would be friendlier confines in Boise, it was important that activists from Minnesota and Oregon traveled to join Idahoans in an effort to hold the bank accountable. Then last week, Wells Fargo bankers traveled from San Francisco to Salt Lake City for their shareholders meeting, and activists again weren’t deterred—they came from California, Colorado and New York to stand with local groups and protest the bank’s practices.
“Wells Fargo moved the shareholders meeting to Salt Lake because last year there were 3,000 people in the streets in San Francisco,” said Maurice Weeks, campaign coordinator for the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), which had fifteen members make the eleven-hour trip to Utah. “We wanted them to know that they can’t hide from us.”
ACCE members attended the shareholders meeting as legal proxies. They were joined by members of the Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project (NEDAP) from New York, the Colorado Student Power Alliance and local groups from Salt Lake City that were focused on Wells Fargo’s investments in private prisons and the impact on communities of color.
Several ACCE members in attendance were facing immediate foreclosures and welcomed the opportunity to tell Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf—who was paid $22.87 million last year, more than any other banker—that they hadn’t been given a fair shake.