On Monday, dozens of homeowners and community leaders were arrested outside the Department of Justice in protest of Attorney General Eric Holder's lack of will to hold the big banks' accountable for their abusive practices that led to the economic crash and continues to damage millions of homeowners and our economy today.
Members of the Home Defender's League and Occupy Our Homes climbed the barriers and locked arms, set up foreclosure tents, blocked all entrances to the building and took over the intersections surround the Department of Justice. Four police officers had to carry one protestor to a paddy wagon (See the pictures from the action here.) Upon their arrest, instead of presenting their own identification, homeowners presented police with their new ID's -- claiming to be Jon Stumpf of Wells Fargo or Brian Moynihan of Bank of America -- with the message, "arrest the real criminals."
The action is not only happening in Washington, D.C. On Sunday, the Minnesota legislature passed the "Homeowner Bill of Rights" which among many amazing things, bans "dual tracking" preventing servicers from foreclosing without a clear yes or no on loan modification and allows homeowners to take a bank to court to stop foreclosure if the bank fails to comply with any aspect of the law. The campaign was led by an amazing collaboration of Minnesota grassroots organizations.
This flurry of activity in the last few days comes on the heels of other major housing justice moments in May -- making it one of the important months in the fight for our economic future that has come in a long time.
It has been a full five years since banks crashed the economy and more than a year since President Obama announced a special task force to investigate big bank crimes. Ever since, homeowners and community members have been fighting for fair and deserved relief and justice.
On May 1, President Obama announced the nomination of Rep. Mel Watt (D-NC) to become the permanent director of the Federal Housing Finance Administration. This came after a 16-month grassroots campaign led by the New Bottom Line for President Obama to "Dump (Ed) DeMarco" the acting Director of FHFA, which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. With DeMarco in charge to the two agencies that control more than half the mortgage market, his obstinante and destructive opposition to principal reduction -- resetting mortgages to fair market value -- is blocking the needed policy to support homeowners, benefit taxpayers and boost the entire economy.
It's clear that a new direction is needed at FHFA-one that supports homeowners now, but also resuscitates the long-term housing market and boosts our economy.The Senate must now approve Watt-and this will clearly be a fight unto itself. But the nomination was the first major milestone in a long-waged campaign that often felt endless with no change in sight. It proved that determination, grit, creativity and grassroots organizing can actually make a difference for real people.
And this is critical, because just last week, the new report, "Wasted Wealth: How the Wall Street Crash Continues to Stall Economic Recovery and Deepen Racial Inequity in America," details how the foreclosure crisis is still devastating our communities and our economy to this day. According to the report, big banks' unscrupulous lending practices caused a mass loss of homeownership and wealth in communities across the country. In 2012, the foreclosure crisis continued to destroy wealth on a large scale with $192.6 billion in wealth lost across the U.S. That's right-$192.6 BILLION. And with more than 13 million homes still underwater and at risk of foreclosure, Americans stand to lose nearly $221 billion in additional wealth from these mortgages alone.
But it was communities of color, who were specifically targeted with sub-prime and high-risk loans, that have fared the worst. The report shows how zip codes with majority people of color populations saw 16 foreclosures per thousand households with an average of $2,200 in lost wealth per household. Wasted Wealth also documents how a strategy of principal reduction would save money for homeowners, boost the economy to the tune of $101.7 billion, and create 1.5 million jobs.
Which leads us to the civil disobedience on Monday. Homeowners like Giselle Mata of Whittier, CA (watch her video here) were arrested because they are fighting for their homes, their livelihood, their children, and our communities. They did it because there are too many people unfairly suffering, while the big banks and their top officials continue to profit. And nothing, I repeat, nothing has been done to hold these big banksters accountable. The Department of Justice has been neglectful, and some would allege, deliberately blocking any investigation into big banks.
In fact Holder's remarks back in March, sum up the the entire state of neglect at the Justice Department.
I am concerned that the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that if you do prosecute, if you do bring a criminal charge, it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy. And I think that is a function of the fact that some of these institutions have become too large.
(Of course, he backed down from this statement, just a few days ago, but the evidence of inactivity is clear. )
The "Bring Justice to Justice" action is the climax to years of organizing and calling on the White House and the Department of Justice to investigate big banks and provide restitution for homeowners. Homeowners will be staying in jail for days to come and they don't intend to back down from this fight.
May exemplifies the highs and lows of what we've been fighting for. This work is not just about righting past wrongs, it's also about our future. It's about the future of our retirement, our kids' lives, the kind of communities we want to live in and about our country's economic future. We need principal reduction to support homeowners now and boost our economy for everyone. We need the big banks and bankers fully investigated because we can't risk another economic catastrophe that our country went through in the last few years.
We have shown what we are willing to do for our country. Now it's time for our elected officials to do the same.