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It’s Time to Halt Middle-Class Housing Crisis

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U.S. workers got short shrift from policymakers during the last five years compared to the nation’s financial institutions. While banks received a bailout from the economic meltdown they caused, homeowners were left to go it alone and many were forced into foreclosure.

The housing crisis may not be as dire as it once was. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good situation for America’s middle class. Meanwhile, increasingly it seems banks are up to the same old dirty tricks. They are using new methods and today’s changed housing reality for many families as a way to screw especially low-wage workers again.

Although many banks are raking in record profits, tightened credit standards are hurting working families from achieving the American dream of home ownership. Another 10 million homeowners still owe more than their homes are worth, while 11 million Americans pay more than half their income for rental housing. That’s due in part to a squeezed rental market because so many foreclosed properties are sitting vacant.

Even programs set up to help homeowners in crisis have proven to be a ruse. Bank of America, for example, sent its most pressing calls seeking relief as part of a federal program designed to prevent foreclosures to a contractor that just continued the runaround. Some borrowers were forced into foreclosure, while others ended up agreeing to loan modifications full of fees caused by the additional delays.

We are also getting a clearer picture about the roots of the housing disaster. A new Rolling Stone report shows that you need to go back to 1997 to see the beginning of the subprime mortgage market from which the nation’s financial disaster sprung. The actions taken by the former Household International, now part of HSBC, makes it clear they were looking to sucker buyers through deceptive practices that make mortgages more risky and expensive.

And now comes a report there is an uptick in the amount of homeowners missing payments on their home equity lines of credit, a clear sign the U.S. is not out of the woods yet when it comes to its housing crisis. Why is this happening? As Reuters states, “The loans are a problem now because an increasing number are hitting their 10-year anniversary, at which point borrowers usually must start paying down the principal on the loans as well as the interest they had been paying all along.”

So where does the U.S. go from here? One positive step was the Senate’s confirmation of Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), who was blocked from the position for more than seven months. The agency oversees some $5 trillion in housing assets and helps shape the nation’s mortgage market.

This country needs a lending policy that doesn’t place banks above hard-working Americans. Watt needs to make sure that comes to fruition.