Ten Million Families Sliding Toward Foreclosure

by SHERWOOD ROSS

Of the 55-million families with mortgages, 10.4-million of them “are sliding toward failure and foreclosure”—a tragedy that will depress the U.S. housing market for years to come, a result of too many houses for sale and too few buyers.

That’s the blunt conclusion of distinguished economics journalist William Greider, to be published in an article in the November 14th issue of The Nation magazine.

America’s “Economic recovery will have to wait until that surplus (excess houses) is gone, because the housing sector has always led the way out of recession,” Greider says. “The more housing supply exceeds demand, the more prices fall. The more prices fall, the more families get sucked into the deep muddy. The vicious cycle is known in the industry as the death spiral. So far, there’s no end in sight.”

Greider says the solution is to forgive the debtors: “Write down the principal they owe on their mortgage to match the current market value of their home, so they will no longer be underwater. Refinance the loan with a reduced interest rate, so the monthly payment is at a level that the struggling homeowner can handle.”

Forgiving the debtors is the right thing to do, Greider continues, “because the bankers have already been forgiven. The largest banks were in effect relieved of any guilt for their crimes of systemic fraud or for causing the financial breakdown—when the government bailed them out, no questions asked.”

Far from a show of gratitude, Greider notes the response of the banks has been ugly. “Right now, these trillion-dollar institutions are methodically harvesting the last possible pound of flesh from millions of homeowners before kicking these failing debtors out of their homes—the story known as the ‘foreclosure crisis.’”

The largest and most powerful banks are standing in the way of the solution and the Obama administration “is standing with them,” Greider adds, “because bankers and other creditors would have to take a big hit if they were forced to write down the debt owed by borrowers.  The banks would have to report reduced capital and their revenue would decline if homeowners were allowed to make smaller monthly payments.”

President Obama, he says, “seems to be playing a sly double game—protecting banks from sharing the pain while proclaiming sympathy for embattled homeowners.” Greider adds, “The government, in effect, has been sheltering banks from facing the hard truth about their condition.” Banks may be valuing mortgages or mortgage bonds at 85 cents on the dollar when their true market value is closer to 30 cents. “That strengthens the case for a general and orderly write-down now: if many of these loans aren’t ever going to be rapid, then the assets now claimed by the banks are imaginary.”

Greider quotes Stephen Roach, a Morgan Stanley economist and lecturer at the Yale University School of Manaagement, who says, “Some form of debt forgiveness would be a clear positive. Debt forgivness is a big deal when so many Americans are underwater and unable to keep up with their payments… With debt reduction, people would feel less reluctant to spend money on new things. If you can do that, then companies will feel more confident about future demand, less reluctant about hiring more workers.”

Roach believes the government can instruct Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which hold some $1.5 trillion in housing loans or mortgage-backed securities, to take a write-down on their outstanding loans. “Then the government can put pressure on the banks to do the same thing. The banks will resist, but they have to go along if the government is forceful enough,” Roach says.

However, housing-finance expert Laurie Goodman,  said the government is making it harder for homeowners to get new mortgages despite the sagging housing market. “Almost every single proposed government action has been aimed at further tightening credit availability,” she told the Senate Banking Committee last September.

With 25 million workers unemployed or underemployed, the President enjoys great popular support for  pushing through a massive jobs bill, raising the minimum wage and shoveling money into the pockets of hard-pressed homeowners to help them pay their mortgages. Instead, as Greider says, Obama has been siding with the banks. Worse, he keeps squandering tax dollars on foreign wars opposed by the most Americans. There’s not much left over to stimulate the economy when the Pentagon has sucked up $800 billion in direct costs to wage war in Iraq with indirect costs, estimated by economist Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes, at a staggering $4 trillion.

Sherwood Ross is a Miami-based public relations consultant “for good causes” who writes on political and military topics. Reach him at sherwoodross10@gmail.com   

Exclusively in the New Print Issue of CounterPunch

THE SLOW DEATH OF THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH – Nancy Scheper-Hughes on Clerical Sex Abuse and the Vatican. PLUS Fred Gardner on Obama’s Policy on Marijuana and the Reform Leaders’ Misleading Spin.  SUBSCRIBE NOW

Order your subscription today and get
CounterPunch by email for only $35 per year.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
September 02, 2015
Paul Street
Strange Words From St. Bernard and the Sandernistas
Jose Martinez
Houston, We Have a Problem: False Equivalencies on Police Violence
Henry Giroux
Global Capitalism and the Culture of Mad Violence
Ajamu Baraka
Making Black Lives Matter in Riohacha, Colombia
William Edstrom
Wall Street and the Military are Draining Americans High and Dry
David Altheide
The Media Syndrome Between a Glock and a GoPro
Yves Engler
Canada vs. Africa
Ron Jacobs
The League of Empire
Andrew Smolski
Democracy and Privatization in Neoliberal Mexico
Stephen Lendman
Gaza: a Socioeconomic Dead Zone
Norman Pollack
Obama, Flim-Flam Artist: Alaska Offshore Drilling
Binoy Kampmark
Australian Border Force Gore
Ruth Fowler
Ask Not: Lost in the Crowd with Amanda Palmer
Kim Nicolini
Remembering Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes
September 01, 2015
Mike Whitney
Return to Crisis: Things Keep Getting Worse
Michael Schwalbe
The Moral Hazards of Capitalism
Eric Mann
Inside the Civil Rights Movement: a Conversation With Julian Bond
Pam Martens
How Wall Street Parasites Have Devoured Their Hosts, Your Retirement Plan and the U.S. Economy
Jonathan Latham
Growing Doubt: a Scientist’s Experience of GMOs
Fran Shor
Occupy Wall Street and the Sanders Campaign: a Case of Historical Amnesia?
Joe Paff
The Big Trees: Cockburn, Marx and Shostakovich
Randy Blazak
University Administrators Allow Fraternities to Turn Colleges Into Rape Factories
Robert Hunziker
The IPCC Caught in a Pressure Cooker
George Wuerthner
Myths of the Anthropocene Boosters: Truthout’s Misguided Attack on Wilderness and National Park Ideals
Robert Koehler
Sending Your Children Off to Safe Spaces in College
Jesse Jackson
Season of the Insurgents: From Trump to Sanders
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America
Louis Proyect
Jacobin and “The War on Syria”
Lawrence Wittner
Militarism Run Amok: How Russians and Americans are Preparing Their Children for War
Binoy Kampmark
Tales of Darkness: Europe’s Refugee Woes
Ralph Nader
Lo, the Poor Enlightened Billionaire!
Peter Koenig
Greece: a New Beginning? A New Hope?
Dean Baker
America Needs an “Idiot-Proof” Retirement System
Vijay Prashad
Why the Iran Deal is Essential
Tom Clifford
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident: a History That Continues to Resonate
Peter Belmont
The Salaita Affair: a Scandal That Never Should Have Happened
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?