Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Right-Wingers Blame Poor For Financial Chaos

The imaginary and the fearful have glommed onto this notion that the one group of Americans to blame the most for the 'financial meltdown" in the housing market is the poor and other 'minority' sections of America.

Hence, the spinners and blame-anyone-but-the-culprits, have labeled programs such as the CRA - the Community Reinvestment Act - as part of an Evil Liberal Plot to destabilize the economic health of the nation. I guess it makes for a good catch-phrase to bolster the idea that Po' Folks Are Liberal Demons.

But the fact is - those claims are just not a part of the reality.

Some samples from various sources:

Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote recently that while the goal of the CRA was admirable, "it led to tremendous pressure on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — who in turn pressured banks and other lenders — to extend mortgages to people who were borrowing over their heads. That's called subprime lending. It lies at the root of our current calamity."

Fannie and Freddie, however, didn't pressure lenders to sell them more loans; they struggled to keep pace with their private sector competitors. In fact, their regulator, the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, imposed new restrictions in 2006 that led to Fannie and Freddie losing even more market share in the booming subprime market.

What's more, only commercial banks and thrifts must follow CRA rules. The investment banks don't, nor did the now-bankrupt non-bank lenders such as New Century Financial Corp. and Ameriquest that underwrote most of the subprime loans.

These private non-bank lenders enjoyed a regulatory gap, allowing them to be regulated by 50 different state banking supervisors instead of the federal government. And mortgage brokers, who also weren't subject to federal regulation or the CRA, originated most of the subprime loans.

In a speech last March, Janet Yellen, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, debunked the notion that the push for affordable housing created today's problems.

"Most of the loans made by depository institutions examined under the CRA have not been higher-priced loans," she said. "The CRA has increased the volume of responsible lending to low- and moderate-income households."

In a book on the sub-prime lending collapse published in June 2007, the late Federal Reserve Governor Ed Gramlich wrote that only one-third of all CRA loans had interest rates high enough to be considered sub-prime and that to the pleasant surprise of commercial banks there were low default rates. Banks that participated in CRA lending had found, he wrote, "that this new lending is good business." (Via)


[C0lumnist Ann Coulter says] traditional yardsticks of a mortgage applicant's ability to make payments were replaced with "nontraditional measures of credit-worthiness, such as having a good jump shot or having a missing child named 'Caylee';" the result, Coulter continues, is that "middle-class taxpayers are going to be forced to bail out the Democrats' two most important constituent groups: rich Wall Street bankers and welfare recipients."

To make sure her meaning is clear, Coulter echoes a line from the famous anti-affirmative action "White Hands" commercial Jesse Helms used in his 1990 campaign against black challenger Harvey Gantt. The ad shows a pair of white hands crumpling a job rejection slip as the voiceover intones, "You needed that job, you were the best qualified. But they have to give it to a minority because of a racial quota."

Coulter is in the forefront of a concerted drive to shift the partisan consequences of the collapse on Wall Street from helping Democrats to favoring the GOP. To this end, conservatives have initiated a racially explosive argument, shifting the blame for the current economic crisis to legislation designed up improve access to mortgage financing for African Americans, other minorities and residents of low-income neighborhoods generally." (via)


Commentators say that's what triggered the stock market meltdown and the freeze on credit. They've specifically targeted the mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which the federal government seized on Sept. 6, contending that lending to poor and minority Americans caused Fannie's and Freddie's financial problems.

Federal housing data reveal that the charges aren't true, and that the private sector, not the government or government-backed companies, was behind the soaring subprime lending at the core of the crisis.

Subprime lending offered high-cost loans to the weakest borrowers during the housing boom that lasted from 2001 to 2007. Subprime lending was at its height from 2004 to 2006.

Federal Reserve Board data show that:

  • More than 84 percent of the subprime mortgages in 2006 were issued by private lending institutions.
  • Private firms made nearly 83 percent of the subprime loans to low- and moderate-income borrowers that year

Fannie, the Federal National Mortgage Association, and Freddie, the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp., don't lend money, to minorities or anyone else, however. They purchase loans from the private lenders who actually underwrite the loans.

It's a process called securitization, and by passing on the loans, banks have more capital on hand so they can lend even more.

This much is true. In an effort to promote affordable home ownership for minorities and rural whites, the Department of Housing and Urban Development set targets for Fannie and Freddie in 1992 to purchase low-income loans for sale into the secondary market that eventually reached this number: 52 percent of loans given to low-to moderate-income families.

To be sure, encouraging lower-income Americans to become homeowners gave unsophisticated borrowers and unscrupulous lenders and mortgage brokers more chances to turn dreams of homeownership in nightmares.

But these loans, and those to low- and moderate-income families represent a small portion of overall lending. And at the height of the housing boom in 2005 and 2006, Republicans and their party's standard bearer, President Bush, didn't criticize any sort of lending, frequently boasting that they were presiding over the highest-ever rates of U.S. homeownership.

Between 2004 and 2006, when subprime lending was exploding, Fannie and Freddie went from holding a high of 48 percent of the subprime loans that were sold into the secondary market to holding about 24 percent, according to data from Inside Mortgage Finance, a specialty publication. One reason is that Fannie and Freddie were subject to tougher standards than many of the unregulated players in the private sector who weakened lending standards, most of whom have gone bankrupt or are now in deep trouble." (via)

Or as it most succinctly stated in Slate:

Lending money to poor people doesn't make you poor. Lending money poorly to rich people does."

1 comment:

  1. davidfreels2:07 PM

    In early 1992 I was a copywriter at ad agency J. Walter Thompson/Atlanta and our largest account ($70 million) was HUD. Bush 41 was president. A year later, the ad budget doubled and we were now advertising HUD homes for sale with either "no money down" or either "only $500 down."

    When I lived in Morristown, TN 10 years before, I sold real estate through The Realty House. Some of the property was HUD homes. It required a lot of paperwork and at least a 5% to 10% downpayment.

    The HUD rules were drastically changed in 1993, which was when Clinton came into office. HUD homes are repossessed, foreclosed homes, and we were giving them away with either $500 down or no money down. We were selling HUD homes to people who were no more financially responsible than the very people who had just lost their house in foreclosure. It was the same demographic.

    At the time I thought it was incredibly stupid but had no idea what the ultimate goal was. Now I do.