In Georgia, the ease with which someone can lose a home is staggering.
A foreclosure-eviction can occur without judicial review in just35 days, and at 10 a.m. on the first Tuesday of every month, the state’s159 counties hold a sheriff’s auction of foreclosed homes.
That translated to 1,500 homes for sale in Atlanta on September 1. Reverend Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow PUSH Coalition–including 125ministers from throughout the south–were in town to try to stop theauction.
They appealed to both Citibank and Wells Fargo to withdraw homes fromthe sale. Citi pulled thirty of its forty properties and will restructurethose mortgages. Wells Fargo is still considering its response. Jackson commended Citi for taking “courageous action” but also notedthat there is a need for a “massive restructuring” to truly stem thetide of foreclosures.
“The systematic hemorrhaging of foreclosures is outdistancing by farthe loan modifications,” Jackson said in a recent interview. “We’vegiven a massive blood transfusion to the banks, but it’s not linked tostopping the hemorrhaging at the bottom. We’re taking care of a headwound…but the aorta is gushing.”
Indeed, as of June 30, 1.5 million homes had gone into foreclosure and 2.4 million are expected to foreclose by the end of the year. Thirteen million foreclosures are projected over the next five years. The crisis has also spread to prime loans– they now represent 27 percent of foreclosed loans, “up from 17percent during the comparable 2008 period,” according to McClatchyNewspapers. Nationwide, 23 percent of homeowners are now “under water”–owing more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. Meanwhile,only about 10 percent of homeowners eligible for relief under the Obamaadministration’s anti-foreclosure plan have received help.
“That leaves 90 percent to the bankers without an incentive torestructure loans rather than repossess homes,” Jackson said. “Rightnow, the government is going house by house by house by house–likedipping a spoon in the ocean. There’s a structural abnormality…thatwill not work. It’s like if you’re going for the right to vote–goingcity by city by city by city…or do you have a federal restructuringof the right to vote? Period.”Jackson is outraged that the banks–even subprime lenders, some of whom engaged in “redlining and targeting, steering and clustering“–received a bailout, and are now profiting, with “no linkage to use the bailout to modify loans.”
“Banks are sending out press releases saying they are recovering, butthey are being stimulated to recover,” he said. “Meantime, we’restill losing jobs, and houses, and student loans…and the same banksthat are getting 0 percent interest on loans are unwilling to reduce thehomeowner rate. They’re getting 0 percent money and charging students 16percent….They’re taking a stimulus and getting a fee for free money.”
Rainbow PUSH has embarked on an ambitious and focused campaign–torestructure people’s loans en masse–to stem the tide offoreclosures. It involves calling on the Federal Reserve Bank toinstitute an across-the-board interest rate reduction on all residentialmortgages (Jackson proposes a 6 percent cap); Congress to give bankruptcyjudges the power to modify mortgages (the House passed such legislationbut it failed in the Senate); the Department of Justice to enforce fair lending and civil rightslaws and prosecute those involved in predatory and discriminatorylending practices; and banks and the private sector to participate inthe Obama administration’s anti-foreclosure programs in order to modify75 percent of troubled home mortgages.
The campaign plans foreclosure actions this month in Los Angeles,Antioch, CA, the Federal Reserve in San Francisco, and again inAtlanta. Meetings will be held between key staff of Rainbow PUSH andthe Federal Reserve, FDIC, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd,and House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank.
“We’re taking our case to the streets, directly to the people,” Jacksonsaid. “An aroused people can make things begin to happen.”
The need for these actions at both the local and national level isclear. The foreclosures impact not only the people being thrown out oftheir homes, but also their neighbors. The Center for ResponsibleLending projects that in 2009 alone nearby houses will suffer a $502billion decline in property values. That means an even greater hit to state and city budgets already devastated by the recession.
“When you lose the homes to foreclosure your neighbors homes losevalue,” Jackson said. “You shrink the tax base, then money foreducation, police, teachers, firemen, libraries and right down theriver….”
Jackson believes taking on the foreclosure crisis is only part of theequation.
“I really can’t separate jobs–the need for stimulation, incentives toreinvest in the infrastructure, reinvest in America–and housing andhealthcare and education,” he said. “People with jobs can better affordhealth premiums, and house premiums, and school premiums. We need atargeted stimulus at job creation and we cannot [ignore] the need forrevisiting our trade policy….Trade must be fair to be free. Andorganized labor can’t compete with slave labor….When you aredismissive of human rights–workers’, women’s and children’s rights–you’re dismissive of [our] capacity to compete and to grow. I know thetrade thing is a harder and higher mountain to climb, but it’s amountain that has to be climbed.”
Jackson is right. There is indeed a clear connection between thesebasic struggles for jobs, homes, health, and education–and a need toaddress it as a whole. But it’s also true that taking on theforeclosure crisis alone will require a herculean effort–the kind ofinside-outside strategy we’ve seen (win or lose) in the health caredebate. Jackson and other progressives who understand the power oforganizing, mobilizing, and agitating have a vision for how to take onthe status quo.
“Begin to resist these auctions en masse and publicly. Make resistancean issue, not just the auction an issue,” Jackson said. “Demandbankruptcy reform laws. Fight for a structural change in the mortgagerates. Target a given bank in your area–which may involve civildisobedience, or litigation, or a demonstration–but it does requireaction. That’s what we have to do. Activists cannot be silent in theirprotest. Our silence betrays our quest for justice.”
This article is co-authored by Nation reporter/researcher GregKaufmann.