It's hard to think of two groups more deeply in conflict with one another right now on financial issues than consumer advocates and mortgage lenders. Financial institutions didn't just sabotage millions of borrowers with overvalued and now unpayable loans; since the housing crisis began, the institutions have been stunningly inflexible in helping homeowners modify their mortgages, even when the outcome would be better for both lender and borrower.
John Smith's four-bedroom house stands tall on Cleveland's East Side, its tidy cream siding and green lawn oblivious to the devastation that has scarred the surrounding neighborhood. It is everything thousands of foreclosed homes in the area are not: occupied, intact, and still an asset to the family that lives in it. Smith purchased the home in 2005 through a nonprofit dedicated to repopulating the city with working- and middle-class homeowners. But Smith's investment was one of a few drops in a bucket with no bottom: The census tract he lives in, with about 600 homes, has seen more than 200 foreclosure sales in the past 15 years. "We know the inner city is the inner city, and it's no big surprise to us," Smith says. But even he is stunned at the level of devastation around him.
On Friday, the Obama administration outlined plans to unwind the government-sponsored mortgage agencies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, essentially asking Congress to hand over responsibility for the nation's home mortgages to the very industry whose reckless support of the corrupt lending practices that provoked the current crisis.
Kelly Wood offers her guest a cup of tea from a kettle already boiling on the stove, a gesture that is automatic here in Burlington, Vermont. Nothing, though, could make this condo in a modest subdivision homier than it already is. A thin layer of dog hair on the couch matches the beige living-room carpet. Gardening books line a shelf next to the stairwell, ready to be consulted before Wood digs up the compact backyard.
A worker installs solar panels on a home in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood of the District of Columbia. (Flickr/Bread for the World)
Oil is oozing onto Gulf Shore beaches at the height of vacation season. The Northeast just got slammed with record-high temperatures. Unemployment persists at unendurable levels. It seems like exactly the wrong time for the Obama administration to shut down a promising and increasingly popular way to make homes and other buildings more energy efficient -- a model with so much possibility that Vice President Joe Biden's Middle Class Task Force made it part of its "strategic plan for recovery through retrofit," and the Department of Energy granted more than $100 million to help implement it.