Reckoning Coming for Home Modification Failures

New Orleans Home WreckageThe good news is that more people are recognizing that the Administration’s HAMP program designed to achieve home mortgage modifications and prevent foreclosures has been a dismal failure.   The bad news is that the Republicans are arguing that rather than fix it and actually prevent foreclosures, the program should be killed to save money.  This in spite of the fact that of $75 Billion set aside for home mods, this Treasury Department approved and bank administered program has only triggered an expenditure of $1 Billion.  Banks really don’t want to modify the toxic mortgages, so they haven’t.  The Republicans rather than calling for reform seem to want to prove again that they are the banks’ running dogs.

The Wall Street Journal reported that of 2.7 million applications less than 700,000 homeowners have anything to show for it.  By “anything,” I mean these lucky few got some relief, some reduction, some forbearance, because unfortunately the statistics indicating the number that actually received permanent modifications on their mortgages would have been smaller still.

Luckily this was not a big problem.  As the Journal reports:  “Almost 6.7 million U.S. homes were lost to foreclosure, short sales or turned back to lenders between 2000 and 2010, according to Moody’s Analytics. Another 3.6 million could meet the same fate through 2013.”   Ok, you’re right.  It’s not quite fair to lump 10,000,000 foreclosures over a decade on the shoulders of a 2 year old program, but it is right to say that this is a huge issue for an amazing number of families, homeowners, and voters, so it’s a surprise it has been handled so cavalierly by friend and foe.

Journal reporters, Alan Zibel and Louise Radnofsky go on to bell the cow without hearing the peal:

The White House launched the HAMP program in 2009 as a broad attempt to reverse the rising number of home foreclosures by reducing families’ mortgage payments, typically by lowering the interest rate and extending the term of a loan. But the administration’s strict eligibility criteria resulted in far lower participation than expected.

This translated into a smaller cost to taxpayers. Two years ago, the Obama administration said as much as $75 billion would be needed for HAMP. About $1 billion has been spent so far.

The program has faced sharp criticism. Neil Barofsky, the departing special inspector general overseeing the program, has faulted the administration for launching it with inadequate analysis and only partially developed guidelines. This led to delays and confusion, and the program “continues to fall short of any meaningful standard of success,” he said a report released in January.

House Republicans have called the program a waste of money and are considering a bill this week to end the program. “In an era of record-breaking deficits, it’s time to pull the plug on these programs that are actually doing more harm than good for struggling homeowners,” Rep. Spencer Bachus (R., Ala.) said last week.”

“More harm than good….”  What could Congressman Bachus be thinking?  That no program is better or even more importantly that fixing this program and finally getting it to work wouldn’t do a lot of good?  He can only be thinking of the disappointment that many homeowners have felt as they allowed themselves to hope, and then lost their home while waiting for a promised modification from a bank.

The Republicans are looking at the wrong electoral and political math.  They want to be heroes, they need to step up and make HAMP work rather than playing pretend about the devastation of the housing crises as the Treasury Department banker enablers have been doing.


Community Organizing is a Revolutionary Tool

Nebeckw Orleans I retweeted something last week where someone had said, “Glenn Beck takes the left more seriously than anyone else,” or words to that affect, simply because it was true. For all of his buffoonery and conspiracy theories, Beck is on to something: he knows community organizing is serious business, and he knows that it threatens the status quo. Liberals make the mistake of simply seeing community organizing as nice, harmless civic participation, which is also true, but only part of the story, which is why in the assault on ACORN they often drew the line inaccurately at form, rather than recognizing that the substance of the attack was deeply targeted at substance, and as it turned out the very right of a mass-based, socially responsive, politically active membership organization of low-and-moderate income families to even exist. It wasn’t then and isn’t now a question of the name, but the very game itself.

All of this is becoming crystal clear as change continues to come in the Middle East. When reporters began interviewing the small cadre of younger activists who seemed to serve as the catalytic organizers of the early protests and marches that ended up toppling the Mubarak regime in Egypt they were unequivocal in explaining that the sea change in their development of a significant mass base of support was when they finally abandoned middle and upper income neighborhoods with their call for democracy and participation and instead went directly to the poor and working areas and called to people flatly about their need for jobs, higher wages, and better housing. In other words when they turned from being sloganeering activists to fundamental organizers, and in fact community organizers, talking to people about their real issues and helping them link the connections to the lack of responsiveness of the government, then they saw success.

The superficial intellectual left critique of community organizing for decades has been the inability of community organizations to move past stop signs, drainage, and loose dogs to “more fundamental” societal and political issues in their analysis. To say that such a criticism is elitist is equally one-dimensional. To answer simply that one builds a base with such issues is also less than satisfying and does nothing to silence such criticism if there is no further explication of what the base might do or essentially “power for what.” Frankly, too often community organizing has stuttered and stalled past the “stop signs” so to speak. The Alinsky formulation of “organizing the organized” and aversion to direct politics has continued to confuse many organizations and their organizers in the United States for decades. ACORN’s very difference and distinctiveness in strategy and battlegrounds made it target, and the lack of consensus on these very issues isolated the organization, fatally as it turned out.

No such qualms about the effectiveness of such issues in developing strategy and tactics can be seen in the Middle East or elsewhere. A fascinating piece, “Revolution U” on the work of some of the old Optor organizers from Serbia written by Tina Rosenberg in Foreign Affairs, was forwarded to me by a friend, and gave a fascinating report on her witnessing conversations between Srdja Popovic, one of the founders of Belgrade-based CANVAS (Center for Applied Non-Violent Action and Strategies) along with Slobodan Djinovic, with activists among the Burmese trying to organize against this repressive regime. The conversation was one I have witnessed and been a participant in perhaps a 1000 times, as the group discussed possible issues useful for organizing and began focusing on discontent around garbage collection and the strategies and tactics useful in moving people around the issue. From our organizing with ACORN International in slums around the world, we know that garbage is the developing world’s “stop sign” issue as a failsafe common concern that is virtually universal.

CANVAS has had these kinds of basic trainings in what can only be called community organizing techniques applied to political action in fifty different countries around the world. Not all of them have ended in revolution. This is not a cookbook session after all. Nonetheless the seeds have been planted and the inevitability of change is present as long as the end is clear and the work is done.

Community organizing is dangerous stuff in the hands of people who want to participate fully as citizens and create democratic change. Anyone who opposes the will of such people expressed with determination and dedication, should be worried, whether Glenn Beck, Republican Congressmen, or dictators wherever they may live and rule.