Weak fields

Amidst the hundreds of pre-post-mortems going for Romney's campaign, Washington Post's Richard "Liberal" Cohen --sniff-- misses Ron:

In 1980 Ronald Reagan won the Republican nomination. He beat a future president, George H.W. Bush; two future Senate majority leaders, Howard Baker and Bob Dole; and two lesser-known congressmen. This year Mitt Romney won the GOP nomination. He beat a radio host, a disgraced former House speaker, a defeated Senate candidate, a former appointee of the Obama administration, a tongue-tied Texas governor, a prevaricating religious zealot who happens to serve in the House of Representatives and a cranky libertarian doctor. Where did all the talent go?

Cohen longs for the intellectual heavy-weights of yore (George W. Bush and Reagan?) and concludes that the only solution, as is all things, infinity is more moderates voting for more trickle-down Republicans, more NeoCon foreign policy Republicans and more top-end tax cut Republicans.  In short, more of everything Romney is running on, but spoken moderately?  Or something. 

Pretending the trend this cycle is a full rejection of GOP ideas (just like the opposite in 2010) is a miss, but even further off the mark is pretending Obama is winning this election merely because the Republican field was weak.  It was weak.  So weak it was fun

So:

  • Agree with Cohen, George W. Bush and Reagan did, indeed, win their elections.  But neither were particularly strong candidates on the trail. 
  • The overall not-sucking-enough economy kept a few Republicans stronger than, say, Herman Cain out of the race, sure, but even with them in Romney would've probably been the favorite. 
  • Romney was never that electable to begin with.
  • House Republicans tarnished the brand.  Extreme ideas like redefining rape scare many voters.  Probably more than one independent voter out there still wondering how the hell Planned Parenthood fits into the GOP recovery plan, for sure.
  • The Romney campaign has been a disaster, and campaigns matter some.

All true, but none are a good way to understand Obama's lead.  Jonathan Bernstein:

[...]the easiest interpretation of what’s going on right now is that, if Obama leads by 3 to 4 points, only a point or two needs to be explained beyond the fundamentals. At best, we’re talking about maybe 5 or 6 percent who would otherwise be voting for Romney but currently appear to be supporting the president.  That’s still worth studying, of course — but it’s a relatively small effect overall.

The basic story here is that, after all, it is the economy.

The economy, and incumbency.  Romney's campaign follies, GOP vs. Pollsters, and the (inevitable) Fox News meltdown are just the icing on the cake.

 

Opportunity Impact Statement: Ensuring an Economy that Works

Americans prioritize finding solutions for our economy and job creation, and it is clear that we need an economy that works for all of us. This means building the jobs and the infrastructure that will create equal opportunities for success for all Americans. In order to make smart and necessary decisions about how and where we spend our money, we need to evaluate the impact of spending, while also honoring our commitment to avoid engaging in discrimination.

Using a tool that evaluates public spending—what we call an Opportunity Impact Statement (OIS)—at all levels of government can ensure that government looks at where investment is needed most before actually spending funds, whether it’s for job creation, building out transportation to jobs, or schools. This would ensure that all Americans have access to the building blocks of opportunity. The American Constitution Society has published an issue brief by The Opportunity Agenda on these statements. As described in the brief, “[a] coordinated process is needed to ensure that public funding complies with anti-discrimination laws and not only confronts barriers to opportunity that affect regions throughout the United States, but also builds the foundation necessary to give all communities a chance to achieve economic security and mobility.”

We describe in the brief ways for administrative agencies to use an OIS process as part of their evaluation of ongoing and proposed government funded projects and programs, with detailed examples related to housing and transportation. Read the brief here to learn about ways to use this flexible tool to promote opportunity as we build our economy.

 

 

Racial Discrimination by Banks Is Worsening the Foreclosure Crisis

Is there a house in your neighborhood that everybody hates to walk past? You know, the one with broken and boarded up windows, trash left to gather on the lawn, and grass so overgrown it’s becoming a habitat for rodents?

If you have a house like that in your community, you know it’s more than just an eyesore. Neglected, vacant houses depress property values throughout the community, and can threaten health and safety. They erode the sense of community and stability that creates vibrant localities, and they hamper economic resiliency. With a national foreclosure crisis still in full swing, such houses are all too common.

You might be surprised to learn, though, that if you have problem properties like that in your neighborhood, there’s a good chance your absentee neighbor is a bank. More shocking still, banks are neglecting houses they own in minority communities even more frequently—much more frequently—than those they hold in white communities.

A detailed undercover investigation unveiled last week by the National Fair Housing Alliance and several regional partners shows not only that banks too frequently fail to maintain foreclosed properties that they own, but that they tend to neglect their properties in communities of color at a much higher rate, with devastating consequences.

A large number of the neglected, bank-owned properties have broken or missing doors and windows, inviting vandalism and trespassers. And many have safety hazards that endanger the public. Those and other defects are significantly more prevalent in bank-owned properties located in communities of color. Another finding is that, on average, the banks are not marketing houses located in communities of color as aggressively to individual homebuyers as they do properties in white neighborhoods. The properties in white neighborhoods are, for example, more likely to have clear and professional “for sale” signs. When banks both poorly maintain and poorly market foreclosed houses, the properties tend to stay vacant longer and to eventually be sold to speculators, rather than to people who would make the houses their home.

The discriminatory differences are stark. In Dayton, Ohio, for example, 60% of bank-owned properties in African-American neighborhoods had broken or unsecured doors, compared to only 18% in white neighborhoods. In Atlanta, properties in African-American neighborhoods were almost five times more likely than homes in white neighborhoods to lack a “for sale” sign. And in Dallas, 73% of the bank-owned homes in predominantly non-white neighborhoods had trash on their properties, while only 37% in white areas did.

Neighbors of all races who live near foreclosed, bank-owned properties, the investigation found, are pulling together to keep them presentable—doing maintenance the banks should be doing, like mowing lawns and removing trash. But in communities of color, neighbors reported seeing home improvement contractors working on those properties at only half the rate seen by neighbors in predominantly white areas.

The bank behavior identified by this investigation is unethical, unlawful, and harmful to our economy. It breaches our basic national values of equal opportunity and the common good. It violates the Fair Housing Act of 1968, signed 44 years ago this week in the wake of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. And it is holding back our economic recovery by, among other things, depressing home prices and hampering sales.

It’s hard to know all the reasons why banks are discriminating in this way. Bias and unfounded stereotypes about minority communities and homes, however, are a likely root cause. The investigators controlled for 39 race-neutral factors like building structure, water damage, and curb appeal, so the different treatment is indisputably about race, and not class or other home or neighborhood characteristics.

This investigation should be a wake up call for banks, regulators, local governments, and the neighbors of these bank-owned properties. Among the solutions identified by the National Fair Housing Alliance are anti-discrimination investigations by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and other enforcement agencies, making information about bank-owned properties more publicly accessible, and prioritizing buyers who will occupy these properties over speculators who may warehouse them.

As Americans struggle together toward a lasting economic recovery, good neighbors are more important than ever. It’s time to remind America’s banks that this includes them.

Protecting Fair Lending Is Key To Our Economic Recovery

Most Americans correctly understand that the economic meltdown was caused by a perfect storm of misconduct in the lending and financial industries and inadequate rules and enforcement.  A 2010 Pew Financial Reform Project poll, for example, found that American likely voters overwhelmingly blamed banks for making unsustainable mortgages (42%) and too little regulation of Wall Street (24%) for the crisis.

Fewer are aware, however, of the role that racial bias and discrimination by lenders and brokers played in creating the crisis.  Understanding that role and the tools available to correct it is key to ensuring our nation's full economic recovery.

Despite the progress we've made as a nation toward the goal of equal opportunity for all, significant barriers remain, especially when it comes to mortgage lending by banks and brokers.  In a 2005 report using federal data that presaged the current crisis, for example, The Opportunity Agenda, the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, and the Poverty and Race Research Action Council warned that-even controlling for income-African-American and Latino borrowers were significantly more likely to be sold high cost, subprime loans than whites, despite the fact that as many as 50% of those borrowers qualified for prime loans. Racial inequity in lending actually increased with borrower income levels, and with the degree of neighborhood segregation.

Loans in these communities were more costly, and were frequently predatory, carrying hidden fees and conditions or marketed through deceptive practices.  Some, for example, were designed with built-in rate adjustment features making them unsustainable over the loan's lifespan.

More recently, a series of lawsuits and settlements have revealed pervasive patterns of racial discrimination in home lending.  In December 2011, for example, the U.S. Department of Justice reached the largest fair lending settlement in its history with the lender Countrywide.  The Department says that Countrywide discriminated on the basis of race and national origin against qualified African-American and Hispanic borrowers between 2004 and 2008, charging more than 200,000 of these borrowers higher fees and interest rates than non-Hispanic white borrowers, and steering borrowers of color into subprime loans.

The Justice Department has settled similar discrimination cases against AIG Federal Savings Bank, Wilmington Finance Inc., PrimeLending, C&F Mortgage Corporation, Midwest BankCentre, Citizens Republic Bancorp, Inc., and others, reinforcing the reality that these practices are pervasive.

Why would subprime lenders disproportionately target minority communities for risky loans and, often, deceptive and predatory lending practices?  There are several possibilities.  Many minority neighborhoods, even middle-classed ones, lack banks or other traditional lending institutions, making them more susceptible to exploitation.  People of color are more likely to be first generation homebuyers, with fewer sources of information, experience, or advice.  Many lenders assume them to be poor credit risks, even when they are well qualified for traditional loans.

Lenders' discriminatory treatment toward communities of color previewed and paralleled exploitative practices that they visited upon moderate-income white communities, senior citizens, military servicemembers, and more broadly. Today, consequently, we are all in it together, with some two million homes in foreclosure.  In addition to homeowners, the mortgage crisis is displacing millions of renters whose landlords are in default.

Fortunately, solutions exist that can put homeownership back on track, repair devastated communities, and restore the promise of equal opportunity and fair housing for all Americans.  Just as the Obama administration has correctly insisted on a review of loans to servicemembers, for instance, they should demand a review of loans in communities with high concentrations of discriminatory and predatory loan practices.  The administration should direct the Treasury Department to issue long-overdue civil rights and fair housing regulations for programs it oversees.  And Congress should modernize the Community Reinvestment Act to reach a wider range of institutions and to strengthen equal opportunity protections.

Other needed reforms include increasing homeowners' access to financial counseling, reducing the principal of loans owned or backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and maintaining a government role in the secondary mortgage market to ensure that qualified working Americans of all races have access to 30-year fixed mortgages going forward.

Acknowledging the role that racial bias has played in the financial and mortgage crisis is crucial to understanding the scope and scale of that crisis.  Concrete steps toward greater and more equal opportunity for all are important to ending it.

On Foreclosures: Too Little, But Not Too Late

The Obama administration and states around the country have taken important steps in recent months toward putting American homeownership and financial security back on track. But it’s clear that more ambitious solutions are needed.

After a lull due to negotiations over fraudulent bank practices, foreclosures are expected to come roaring back this year, with hundreds of thousands of Americans newly at risk of losing their homes. As the scourge of foreclosures continues, the economic security of families and the stability of communities remain at risk. The crisis has deepened inequality throughout the country, and continues to hold us back as a nation.

To be effective, America’s solutions to this crisis must match the scale and shape of the problem. They must stem foreclosures while ensuring that the abuses that caused this problem never happen again. They must help families and communities rebuild their economic security while ensuring that successful homeownership remains a firm steppingstone to opportunity for working Americans. They must protect people from discrimination and ensure fair housing and lending for all Americans.

Earlier this month, a group of housing experts that includes The Opportunity Agenda, National Council of La Raza, and the National Fair Housing Alliance released a Compact for Home Opportunity. The Compact offers over a dozen practical policy solutions that, taken together, will reduce foreclosures, help families and communities restore their economic security, and rebuild the American Dream for the 21st century. It is a crucial part of the national Home for Good campaign that is gaining strength around the country.

One of the Compact’s calls is for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to reduce the principal on loans they own or back to fair market value. A range of economists, experts, and Administration officials agree that doing so would prevent foreclosures while strengthening our economy, improving overall property values and, in the long term, benefiting Fannie and Freddie’s solvency. Yet, Edward DeMarco, acting head of the federal agency that governs Fannie and Freddie, has inexplicably refused to consider principal reduction as a broad-based solution. His position is particularly indefensible, given that Fannie and Freddie are currently owned by the American people after a massive federal rescue in 2008.

While keeping the pressure on DeMarco is key, the Compact for Home Opportunity offers many other things that federal, state, and local actors, as well as private industry, can do today to drastically improve Americans’ housing prospects. One particularly effective example is supporting qualified counseling to Americans considering homeownership and those facing financial difficulty. Counseling by professionals certified by HUD significantly reduces the likelihood of being snagged by predatory lending practices and of running into financial trouble down the line. It’s an investment that saves homes and heartache, as well as tax dollars.

Principal reduction by Fannie and Freddie, housing counseling, and many other solutions exist that can strengthen home opportunity for everyone in our nation. It’s not too late to turn things around. But the clock is ticking.

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