All Articles Tagged "economic recession"

Bank Of America’s $17 Billion Settlement Won’t Help As Many Homeowners As It Should

August 23rd, 2014 - By Tonya Garcia
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This week, Bank of America agreed to pay nearly $17 billion to settle a case with the Justice Department over bad investments that directly led to the economic meltdown. Which, in turn, led to many Americans losing their jobs, their homes, falling into debt, and all sorts of other financial troubles that we’re still, years later, trying to recover from.

The settlement is the largest ever, and does, in a way, send a message that BofA is culpable for the global economic turmoil. But ultimately, experts say, it’s a small cost to the bank. And may be even smaller when you consider other factors.

First off, the $16.65 billion that BofA has been charged is the high-end of the settlement. Actually, there’s $7 billion in “soft dollars” that the bank is suppose to use for borrowers’ relief. But the bank wrote down those troubled mortgages years ago, says The New York Times. So the bank itself won’t see this turn up on its spreadsheets now.

Then there are the tax write-offs that are built into the settlement, which could further reduce the amount the bank pays by more than $1 billion.

The government is considering a lawsuit against some banking executives, namely Angelo Mozilo, the former CEO of Countrywide Financial, which was purchased by Bank of America in 2008. Bank of America, during its negotiations with the Justice Department, maintained that they shouldn’t be held responsible for some of the wrongdoing because it happened before the purchase. But there are a ton of executives who are walking away without a scratch, US banks are back to making money hand over fist (more people have better credit and lending is up), and the unemployment rate is on the rise for a lot of groups. (Minorities still struggle.)

Some politicians are trying to jump in to make sure that the ordinary folk also benefit from these bank settlements. So far, there are have been $37 billion levied against banks, including JP Morgan. BofA has agreed to chip in for affordable housing in New York. Banks are agreeing to renegotiate mortgages to help homeowners. But ultimately, The Huffington Post says the majority of homeowners who are in trouble won’t see the principal of their loans reduced or mortgage debt forgiveness. About nine million homeowners in the US currently have mortgages that are more than their homes are worth.

“…[T]he nation’s top housing regulator continues to refuse to allow write-downs on loans controlled by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — the vast majority of outstanding mortgage debt. In the past, Bank of America has chosen to offer big write-offs to relatively few homeowners with expensive mortgages, rather than give principal reductions to a larger number of homeowners with smaller loans,” writes HuffPo. This is because the head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (the previous one and the current one) thinks people will purposely default to get the help. Housing advocates have railed against the agency because of their stance.

To withhold help to homeowners because they might cheat when banking executives did far worse with no repercussions is galling. Meanwhile, these settlements are being held up as the banks and the government doing what they need to do to show accountability. There’s more to be done for these bankers to truly pay their debt to society. And help those that have suffered mightily because of their recklessness.

Hunger Games IRL: Many Americans Still Can’t Afford Food Even During This Economic Recovery

August 21st, 2014 - By Ann Brown
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After paying all their bills from electric and gas to cell phone and rent, an amazing number of Americans cannot afford food.  This is taking place all across the country even though the United States is now five years into the economic recovery and the unemployment rate is falling.

According to a 160-page study released by the relief charity Feeding America, titled “Hunger in America 2014,” more than 12 million households are forced to eat unhealthy food because they can’t afford more nutritious food; 66 percent of households often have to choose between buying groceries and paying for medicine or medical care; and a whopping 69 percent of households depend on food charities.

Having interviewed 60,000 people whose households are served by the charity over a period of four years, Feeding America says this is the largest, most comprehensive study of hunger in the U.S. ever. And according to the USDA, last year there were 49 million Americans without consistent access to enough food. Among those who took part in Feeding America’s survey, the median household income was a mere $9,175 annually, which is way below the federal poverty threshold of $18,222 for a family of three.

Decreasing unemployment doesn’t mean that these Americans will all of a sudden have enough to eat. In fact, “even when more people get jobs, those jobs don’t always pay enough for them to afford to eat,” reports The Huffington Post.

“If food prices go up, families are more constrained, and they’re more likely to be food insecure,” said USDA economist Christian Gregory, who co-authored the report.

Food prices have increased by an average of 2.8 percent every year since 2007, according to USDA. And prices are expected to jump as much as 3.5 percent this year. Wages, however, have remained the same–or decreased.  The Economic Policy Institute found recently that wages fell during the recession and the recovery for workers in the bottom 70 percent of the wage earnings, even though there were increases in productivity.

Obviously many Americans need help. But of the 15.5 million households served by Feeding America, only a little more than half get monthly food stamps. And about 54 percent of those who do report their food stamps sustain them for two weeks or less. It makes one wonder why Congress recently cut $800 million per year in funding for the food stamp program, reducing benefits for 850,000 households nationwide.

“This report clearly makes a case for the importance of federal nutrition programs,” Feeding America spokesman Ross Fraser said. “They are the first line of defense for someone who lives at risk of hunger.”

Black Churches Facing Foreclosure from Black-Run Bank

November 9th, 2012 - By Tonya Garcia
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A group of Los Angeles pastors are protesting the foreclosure proceedings on a number churches, to be executed by a black-owned bank that was created to serve a once-segregated black population.

Broadway Federal Bank started in the 1940s to provide financial services to the black community. Today, according to the Los Angeles Times“the bank had over 12% of its loans and other assets in delinquency or foreclosure, and seven repossessed churches on its books.” The bank can no longer take on additional church clients. The church pastors have promised to stand up to the bank.

Christianity Today reports that more churches have been foreclosed on in the past couple of years, showing the toll that the economic recession is having. It’s a topic that Reuters also covered earlier this year, saying that all denominations, and both black and white churches have been impacted. The foreclosures are happening as banks, the outlet says, “increasingly lose patience” with religious organizations that have defaulted on their loans and the financial institutions want to get their balance sheets in better shape. Churches told Reuters, at the time, that they just want to negotiate.

The pastors now protesting against Broadway Federal say the bank has foreclosed on 60 churches.

Housing Market on Upswing: New Data Shows Home Prices Jumped

November 7th, 2012 - By Ann Brown
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AP Photo/Paul Sakuma

The housing market may be turning the corner. In September, home prices rose the most in six years.

“U.S. home prices jumped 5% in September compared with a year ago, the largest year-over-year increase since July 2006,” reports USA Today. The data, which points to a housing recovery, comes from CoreLogic, a provider of consumer, financial and property information, analytics and services to business and government.

This is good news. In fact, states the newspaper, “Steady price increases should give the housing market more momentum when home sales pick up in the spring. Rising prices encourage more homeowners to sell their homes and entice would-be buyers to purchase homes before prices rise further.”

The recovery seems to be nearly nationwide, as prices increased in all but seven states. And in just 18 of 100 large cities, they declined, as indicated by the report. Home prices rose in some of the states that were hardest hit by the housing bust. In Arizona, for example, prices for houses were boosted by 18.7 percent  over the past year. Meanwhile in Idaho, which saw the second greatest increase, prices jumped 13.1 percent, found CoreLogic.

There were some drops reported– Rhode Island (3.5 percent) and Illinois (2.3 percent).

Because the market seems to be turning around, “home builders started construction on new homes and apartments at the fastest pace in more than four years in September,” states the USA Today article. “They also requested the most building permits in four years, a sign that many are confident that home sales gains will continue.”

Exit polling last night indicates that a feeling of overall economic improvement was a factor in voter support for President Obama. Forty percent of those surveyed said they thought the economy was on an upswing. “But in a much tighter race than the one that first swept Obama into the White House, the president hung onto his key demographics of women, young people, blacks and Hispanics,” the AP reports.

Reverse Migration: ‘Buppies’ Leaving the North For Life In Other Parts of the Country

October 3rd, 2012 - By Tonya Garcia
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A City College of New York assistant professor of political science, Daniel DiSalvo, has written a column for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette discussing what the headline calls “The Great Reverse Migration” of blacks away from the northern parts of the US.

Citing the astounding figures found throughout The Warmth of Other Suns, the fantastic book by Isabel Wilkerson about the first Great Migration of blacks to the North to escape Jim Crow, DiSalvo notes the millions who made the trip to places like New York and Chicago during the 1900s. About six million to be exact.

But now there are new stats showing that a high number of blacks are making the reverse trip to places like Georgia, South Carolina, Texas and Florida. More specifically, they’re making the move from big cities to other cities like Dallas and Atlanta (though moves to the suburbs have been plentiful as well). Citing figures from the New York Times, the column says that by the end of the 2000s, the black population in the South had grown 75 percent. New York, Illinois and Michigan are the states seeing the biggest exodus.

“Many of the migrants are ‘buppies’ — young, college-educated, upwardly mobile black professionals — and older retirees,” the column says. In other words, blacks who are moving up the ladder are seeking greener pastures (literally) by also moving to places where they can have bigger homes, a backyard, and a solidly middle class way of life. A lot of older retirees are also laying down fresh roots across the South.

DiSalvo pinpoints three reasons for this movement: job prospects, housing prices and the state of public education. The author, who is also a senior fellow at Manhattan Institute’s Center for State and Local Leadership, a conservative-leaning organization, goes on to talk about the possible political repercussions. Among them, the political impact of black immigrants, such as people from Africa and the Caribbean; and the difficulty in creating “predominantly black districts” as the black population spreads out. He posits that blacks may “try their political fortunes” outside of the Democratic party.

“New political attitudes among blacks also have trouble finding expression when black candidates are concentrated into one party,” the column says, suggesting that blacks may turn to the GOP or become independents.

While there’s no doubt that the economic and political landscape is changing for the black community, DiSalvo seems to take his argument a little too far. Blacks in this country continue to make great strides. More blacks are going to college, becoming entrepreneurs and joining the ranks of the middle class.

However, the economic recession has taken a toll. Black unemployment remains high. Women and minority business owners have trouble getting funding to start their businesses. Pew research shows that economic mobility has “stalled.” Some argue that many of the gains made by the black middle class were lost when the housing market went bust. So some of the same economic concerns linger, and progress has created a crop of new ones.

And, at least right now, Mitt Romney and the GOP aren’t making the case that he and his party represent all people. Romney is still reeling from the secret footage containing his talk about the 47 percent. Now there’s new ( or rather, old and played out) video of the President that’s again raising issues with race and race-baiting. And many are still thinking about the scant minority presence at the GOP convention. “…Obama is also president for Americans they felt were not reflected at last week’s largely white Republican National Convention, including advocates for women’s reproductive rights, Latinos fighting for immigration reform and the DREAM Act, and gay rights activists,” reported NPR around the time of the Democratic convention last month.

But getting back to the migration story, it’s interesting that blacks are moving to the South in big numbers, but completely logical if that’s where a better, more affordable life can be found. Equally interesting, there’s a good chance that, just like the movement of Southern blacks to the North changed the culture and the nature of the Northern landscape, the same could happen in parts of the country where this Northern population is relocating. What do you think?

Beware of Mortgage Scams: Homeowners Looking for Help to Avoid Foreclosure Are Targets

September 20th, 2012 - By madamenoire
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Image: Creatas

By Marie Day, Residential Mortgage Default Servicing and Community Outreach Executive, Wells Fargo

The economy has had a detrimental effect on homeownership. Unemployment and underemployment have made it tough for many homeowners to maintain current mortgage payments. In attempts to get assistance and avoid foreclosure, vulnerable homeowners become prime targets for scam artists who are taking advantage of people through a wide array of mortgage scams. For homeowners in need of assistance, now is the time to be more vigilant than ever.

Through December 31, 2011, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had more than 2,500 pending investigations into mortgage fraud around the country. Although the scope of losses for homeowners, legitimate businesses and to the economy caused by mortgage fraud are difficult to calculate, CoreLogic, a research and analytics company, has estimated that losses due to mortgage fraud in 2011 were $7.4 billion.

Scams from all sides

There are many variations of mortgage scams, but the goal is the same: take money and even property from unaware homeowners. Some scammers guarantee that they can negotiate a loan modification with your lender for an upfront fee. Others claim they are affiliated with government agencies and the new loan modification programs. Some fraudsters say they can conduct forensic loan audits to determine whether loans were made in accordance with federal and state mortgage lending laws. Other schemers convince homeowners to surrender the title or deed of their homes in exchange for a new “rescue” loan, or as part of a deal that would let the homeowners rent the home for a few years and then have the ability to repurchase the home in the future. Still others may claim that they could help expedite short sales.

Some swindlers have even used direct mail with prominent use of the lender’s name to gain the trust of customers and trick them into believing an offer for assistance is from their lender. Since homeowner names, addresses, lender names and original mortgage loan amounts are available to anyone through public real estate records, con artists use this information to create direct mail pieces that confuse potential victims into thinking that they are dealing with their lender.

Protect yourself and get assistance

In order to protect yourself from scammers, always be on the look-out for key warning signs. Fraudsters might:

  • Request payment or charge fees in advance.
  • Guarantee results.
  • Direct homeowners to stop making mortgage payments and instead make a payment to a third-party organization.
  • Tell homeowners that they cannot deal with their lender directly.
  • Request that a homeowner sign over the deed or other papers.
  • Ask for personal information over the phone or email.
  • Pressure the customer to perform a specific action.

If you are having financial difficulties in paying your mortgage, you should contact your lender and a housing counselor approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD-approved counselors can provide assistance free of charge, or for a nominal fee. A list of counseling agencies near you can be found at www.hud.gov. If you have doubts whether direct mail that claims to be from your lender is legitimate, call your lender directly and confirm it. And finally, if you think you have been scammed, you should file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission online or call them at 877-FTC-HELP.

Scammers are working hard to take advantage of people in distress. It’s imperative that you get informed and take precautions to not become their next victim.

Column Lays Out the Variety of Issues That Threaten the Black Middle Class

September 4th, 2012 - By Tonya Garcia
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Salon.com has published a story called “Can the Black Middle Class Survive?” that doesn’t so much answer the question as paint a scary picture for why we should be concerned enough to ask it in the first place.

The author, Steven Gray, who previously worked for TIME magazine, points out that in 1999, “for the first time, more than half of black Americans were considered ‘middle class.'” According to the Census Bureau, the poverty rate for African Americans had fallen to an all-time low of 22.5 percent. But just a few years later, the housing crisis was taking shape, with even well-off African Americans falling prey to subprime mortgages, which has caused many to lose their homes or put their homeownership in jeopardy.

“If current trends persist, soon, barely 40 percent of African-Americans will be considered ‘middle class,’ and by 2042, the average black family will earn only 61 cents for every dollar earned by whites,” he writes.

He takes a bit of a tangential turn into his personal story of working and then not working for TIME to make the point that one million black workers lost their jobs across industries including construction, healthcare and manufacturing. Moreover, African Americans represent a small percentage of workers in some industries or are the newcomers in others, making it hard to break through in certain areas. This lessens already tight employment opportunities.

All of this comes to his point that blacks had a growing but weak hold on the middle class and both economic and cultural forces are sweeping that away. If you’ve read the article, what do you think of Gray’s argument?

Michelle Obama to Discuss Middle Class Tonight at the Democratic National Convention

September 4th, 2012 - By Tonya Garcia
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Image: AP/J. Scott Applewhite

The Democratic National Convention is getting underway and among the speakers taking to the podium tonight will be our FLOTUS, Michelle Obama. Recently coming in at number seven on Forbes’ list of women who run the world and riding a wave of popularity that USA Today says has two-thirds of Americans holding a favorable view of her, the First Lady is “expected to echo the middle class message” she has delivered in previous speeches, according to MSNBC. It’s a message that is meant to “draw a contrast” to Mitt Romney.

“She implies that Romney, who had a privileged upbringing, can’t relate when she tells middle-class voters that President Barack Obama understands their economic struggles because he has struggled too,” reports the Associated Press. “And she suggests Romney would have other priorities when she says her husband’s empathy will result in a second-term agenda focused squarely on middle-class economic security.”

The article says the speech will also be “sprinkled” with talk about the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act that President Obama made law. The Act eases the process for women seeking to sue employers for equal pay. In addition, her speech will tackle the healthcare law and other policies that reflect the “values that drive my husband to do what he has done and what he is going to do for the next four years,” the First Lady said in an interview on SiriusXM.

ABC News sums up the speech as one that will showcase the Democrats’ “one big idea: ‘How you build an economy meant to last with a strong middle class at its core.'”

This issue of the middle class is a particularly important one at this point with new jobs numbers coming on Friday and research from the National Employment Law Project showing that many of the new jobs being created in this economic recovery are paying less than the middle range of wages — $13.84 to $21.13 — of a chunk of the jobs lost during the recession.

Separately but still on the topic of the Democratic Convention, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is the chairman of the Democratic National Convention, has said outright that this convention “will be the most diverse in history,” which also creates a contrast with the Republican National Convention. During last week’s events, writer Baratunde Thurston, who was covering the GOP convention, started a hashtag, #negrospotting, pointing out the lack of African Americans in attendance.

Also speaking tonight will be Mayor Julian Castro from San Antonio who will be delivering the keynote.

You Can’t Afford That! Say “No” to Credit Cards and “Yes” to Cash

September 3rd, 2012 - By Tonya Garcia
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Image: Creatas

These days, everyone has a credit card. And on that next trip to the mall, you may decide that you “need” that cashmere sweater (“It’s fall!”). Or that new lipstick (“It’s small!”). Or a pair of shoes (“I deserve a treat!”). Or an extra-nice lunch with wine and dessert (“We all gotta eat!”). Just as fast as you can whip out your card, you’re swiping until you can’t swipe no more. Before you go there, just stop.

Black Enterprise cautions readers against racking up credit card debt, even when we’ve worked hard and really, really, really want something. They suggest using cash and offer four tips to help you use green instead of plastic when you take a shopping trip.

“Bring a certain amount of cash with you daily and only spend that,” they suggest. If you need to carry a card, make it a gift card with a monetary value, which will keep the credit card use at bay.

For more about how to keep credit card use to a minimum, click here and read more at BlackEnterprise.com.

 

Dee Strum Gives Low- to Moderate-Income Families A Shot At Homeownership

August 31st, 2012 - By Rhonda Campbell
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Image courtesy of Dee Strum

This entrepreneur with the “can do” attitude has more than 30 years of business leadership experience. Owner of MDStrum Housing Services, designated by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) agency, the company has been offering housing development, construction management and technical and training support to housing firms and construction companies since 1981.

Dee Strum is also a public speaker, affordable housing advocate and feminist who believes that black women continue to hold the moral high ground in America and must raise their voice to elevate the conversation on gender and racial equity if America is to achieve its full potential in this new millennium. As president of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women (NCBW), Strum helps drive the coalition’s national agenda and actions of its 50-plus local chapters to influence public policy outcomes in a manner that benefits black women and girls. She reminds her constituents that “as goes the black woman, goes the black community.”

Madame Noire: What inspired you to start MDStrum Housing Services?

Dee Strum: The business was started as a sole proprietorship in 1981 and incorporated in 2001. The bigger question is “who” inspired me to start the business to get to the heart of “what” inspired me to start the business. I was influenced by the urban philosophies and work of Mr. James Rouse, a pioneer in urban redevelopment and best known now for his redevelopment and management of urban waterfronts such as Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and Boston’s Faneuil Hall, amongst others. But prior to these endeavors to restore America’s great cities, Mr. Rouse developed the “new city” of Columbia in Howard County, Maryland during my high school years.

Howard County was a rural county with lots of farmland and ideally located almost equal distance between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Mr. Rouse was greatly disturbed by the riots of the mid- and late-1960s. He saw the “race riots” not as they were portrayed, but for what they actually were: riots driven by poverty and despair.

As a member of the student government association, I served as an usher for these community outreach meetings and heard him speak many times on his vision of a city where every neighborhood would have housing developed for families at all income levels, providing for a continuum of housing opportunities to include “low-income housing,” affordable townhouse rentals as moderate income housing, single-family homes of varying costs and upper-end or luxury homes for purchase. All with a single goal in mind: to ensure that children from every income level would attend the same schools and share the same academic and social experiences. These new neighborhoods would be called “villages” and each village would have a village board “close to the people” to encourage and grow citizen participation.

As a high school student I had the privilege of sitting in a classroom with windows overlooking what was to become the construction of the Columbia town center, and I was enamored with the ideal that “where you live (and where you are educated) defines your destiny.” My future was defined, and I spent a summer as a high school intern with the Rouse Corporation and subsequently earned my undergraduate and graduate degrees in community development. I worked in local and state government for a few years after college in the areas of housing and community development and at age 28 I started my professional services company, MDStrum Housing Services.

MN: What types of services does MDStrum Housing Services offer?

DS: Our client base is largely governmental, but also includes private, nonprofit and faith-based organizations, as well as corporate foundations and other philanthropic entities that support the mission of affordable housing.

Since 2000, HUD has been our largest client followed by a myriad of local public housing authorities. Our core services include urban/neighborhood planning, contract administration and construction management, physical needs assessments, cost estimating staff development training, independent and financial assessments, agency improvement plans and staff and board development training. We also served as HUD’s disaster recovery contractor for Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Ike and Gustav.

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