Alyssa Katz

Alyssa Katz is the author of Our Lot: How Real Estate Came to Own Us and a senior fellow with the Pratt Center for Community Development.

Recent Articles

An Unlikely Couple

Mortgage lenders and consumer advocates have paired up to protest a key component of financial reform.

(Wikimedia/Lucas)
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. So it was a curious turn of events last week when the Mortgage Bankers Association , the national trade group for lenders, joined consumer organizations at a Washington, D.C., press conference on financial reform. It was even more striking to see those consumer groups -- the Center for Responsible Lending, National Community Reinvestment Coalition, Consumer Federation of America and the National Housing Conference -- taking a stand against a key Obama administration proposal for financial reform. Under the Dodd-Frank financial-reform bill,...

A Needless Housing Collapse

The success of a pioneering program for moderate-income buyers proves that the subprime disaster was not the fault of homeowners.

(Flickr/respres)
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. "Whole neighborhoods are almost totally down." The Smith family has come close to the precipice. In 2008, Smith, then 38, lost his job as a financial analyst for a bank and had trouble paying his mortgage...

Downsizing the American Dream

The Obama administration plans to wind down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. What does that mean for the future of homeownership?

(Flickr/sshb)
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. Sounds like a terrible idea, yes? But the administration has some big plans for taming the feral financial services industry, and the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill was just the beginning. Central to the administration's proposal is making sure credit is available to all communities; in effect, the administration is reinventing the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) -- a 1977 law designed to prevent commercial banks from discriminating against low-income communities, especially communities of color, through practices like redlining -- for a world in which mortgages are much more likely to be backed by investor capital than consumer bank deposits. If the...

The Rent Trap

In the wake of the foreclosure crisis, should we be encouraging people to abandon the dream of homeownership?

(Flickr/hownowdesign)
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. The condo belongs to Wood, a children's librarian, in every sense except the strict legal definition. While her neighbors hold the titles to their units outright -- and shoulder mortgages that cover most of the purchase price -- Wood owns her condo but leases the land it sits on for $35 a month from the Champlain Housing Trust, a Burlington organization that owns hundreds of parcels all over northwest Vermont. She bought her previous home in partnership with the housing trust, too -- in 2005, at the height of the real-estate bubble. "Prices were just phenomenally high...

Off PACE

The movement to reduce home energy consumption becomes the latest victim of the foreclosure crisis.

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. Last week, the Federal Housing Finance Agency dealt the strongest blow yet to property-assessed clean energy (PACE) loans, which cities and towns across the country have begun offering to help property owners caulk, insulate, efficiently heat, solar-panel, or otherwise modify their homes to reduce energy consumption. The FHFA, which is the conservator of the mortgage financers Fannie Mae and Freddie...

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