Dear President Obama:
We recommend that you authorize the identification of mortgages with predatory clauses that would qualify those homes to be renovated from the foundation to the roof at no cost to the owners, up to $50,000 per house renovation.
This would not only compensate the owners and their neighbors for the crime of fraud against them that they still endure, this objective would also instantly improve their standard of living and increase their equity and wealth…. Equally important for the nation is that this work force development effort would generate increases in the development of businesses, jobs, and incomes which would come from the tens of thousands of contractor jobs, while also generating additional tens of thousands of jobs in home improvement suppliers and manufacturing businesses. All of these salaries and benefits would in turn generate additional job creation….
(Y)ou should redirect a percentage of the dollars being won in law suits from the banking industry to initiate this objective; you should negotiate the redirecting of a percentage of ill gained profits from predatory loans received by Wall Street, financial institutions, principal shareholders, and other major investors; and from increased taxes on major corporations, as well as the rich and wealthy individual tax payers you have already identified.
Morris Williams, Convener
Hamilton County Community Reinvestment Group
Cincinnati, Ohio, March 31, 2012
I first met Morris Williams at the 1974 National Peoples Action conference. He was then with the Coalition of Neighborhoods in Cincinnati. Today, Morris runs the Hamilton County Community Reinvestment Group (HCCRG). Their mission is to increase fair and equal access to capital, credit and financial services. As one who knows Morris would expect, he has been swamped lately with actions concerning the police beatings and murder of black citizens.
In 2008, Morris envisioned the Housing Value Restoration & Job Creation (HVRJC) Strategy that he wrote to the President about. If only President Obama had read his mail, our communities might be closer to restoration.
I served with Morris on the board of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) for almost 20 years. Morris reminded his board colleagues late last year:
“While community needs grow, government budgets are being strained; cities lack sufficient revenues, and they cannot tax their citizens for any more, so essential programs have been reduced or eliminated. With weak consumer markets, speculators continue to artificially increase vacant housing cost without any real system repairs. Meanwhile, NCRC members who would improve the properties before selling them can’t access the capital to purchase and renovate. Those members who can acquire the funding are finding it difficult to find (enough) consumers who can afford to buy the homes and too many potential buyers refuse to invest in underdeveloped communities with no chance for meaningful return on investment or overall revitalization.
Everyone who I have talked to in the country agrees with what the HVRJC Strategy can achieve, but many stated that they don’t believe there is the political will and muscle to get it done. Others have raised questions about the national, state, county and city mechanisms to get it done. Nevertheless, lack of belief and not having answers is no reason to not move forward with broad based explorations, discussions and advocacy. If we had thought that a lack of answers on how to get it done was a real reason not to engage, there would be no CRA, HMDA, ECOA, NCRC or President Obama, which have been the measurable benefits of a national organizational mobilization.”
I also served on the NCRC board for over 20 years with Irvin Henderson from Henderson, North Carolina. Irv replied to Morris that there ought to be more national strategies and interventions that will help address these concerns. However, he cautioned that there are numerous questions needing to be addressed regarding funding and getting to scale:
“a strong feasibility and operational effectiveness analysis is now required for all of us as we consider any strategy because we are responsible as an organization of leaders and change agents and the people expect us to lead carefully, effectively and competently. This is the evolution of NCRC, to be a big enough and sound enough player to sit at any table and responsibly dialogue…. We want the changes that you want, so let’s work on things that have reasonable chances of leading to the broader change that you want and let’s also try to make our strategies as large and comprehensive as we can as you want us to do but within the capacity that we have, always pushing just as you are for more every day, because we know how big the needs are. Yours in the struggle.”
I’ve worked with Irv in numerous meetings where he has shared his investment expertise with bankers, Federal Reserve governors, and public officials. Combined with Morris’ street smarts, the two are a dynamic duo of ideas and actionable steps that we need to be pursuing.
After seeing the new film Selma, I couldn’t help but think of my colleagues Morris and Irv. I have blogged previously about “Traders in Hope.” They both do that too. But they do so as Champions for Justice; not as extremists but as tireless advocates. Their above email exchange reflects tactical decisions faced in 1965 to no longer wait for voting rights.
It is an irony of history that our country’s first African-American President is confronted with the 114th Congress already attempting to unravel the modest provisions of the Dodd-Frank law, passed in 2010 but still awaiting regulatory enforcement.
Despite improving numbers, our economy will not be strong until our communities are rebuilt. NCRC has been piloting its Generating Real Opportunities for Work Through Housing [GROWTH] initiative. More affordable housing needs to be rehabbed and built; more jobs must be created for residents in those same communities. Wall Street should be investing in our communities; not lobbying the 114th Congress to return to unregulated speculation that did so much still irreparable harm.
President Obama’s reduction of FHA’s annual mortgage insurance premiums by 0.5 percentage point is not enough. As NCRC pointed out in its media response, eliminating the requirement that most FHA borrowers pay for mortgage insurance for the life of the loan would have more impact.
From improving policies to advocating for rebuilding communities, there will be a full agenda at NCRC’s conference, “Creating a Just Economy,” taking place March 25-28, 2015 in Washington, DC. Join your colleagues from around the country in DC then to continue the campaign for economic justice.
The film Selma is so powerful. Don’t wait; go see it this month. Recharge your batteries for the struggles ahead to cash that promissory note.
“In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our Republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.” —Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., August 28, 1963, “March for Jobs and Freedom”
The lyrics for this Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day blog are from a song in the musical Ragtime. I read them at the 2010 NCRC conference when as board chair I had the privilege of recognizing Morris Williams as a director emeritus. “Make Them Hear You” embodies Dr. King’s message.
Go out and tell our story
To your daughters and your sons
Make them hear you / Make them hear you
And tell them, in our struggle
We were not the only ones
Make them hear you / Make them hear you
Your sword can be a sermon
Or the power of the pen
Teach every child to raise his voice
And then, my brothers then
Will justice be demanded
By ten million righteous men
Make them hear you
Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
For those not familiar with the musical Ragtime, it opened on Broadway in January 1998. Based on the 1975 novel by E. L. Doctorow, it centers around three families in the early 20th century: African Americans, upper-class suburbanites, and Eastern European immigrants.
The primary African-American character Coalhouse Walker Jr. sings this song while occupying J.P. Morgan’s library in New York City. After resolving that violence will not solve injustice, Coalhouse leaves the library to surrender with his hands in the air only to be shot and killed by the police.