This is what class war looks like under modern casino capitalism. It is the Enron moment for the mortgage industry.
The White House announcement of a Mortgage forgiveness program, after the Fed bailed out the financial markets, is too little too late.
Latinos and African-Americans who bought homes or refinanced mortgages in the San Jose metropolitan area last year were much more likely than white borrowers to get subprime loans, according to a study scheduled for release today.
In its annual survey based on federally collected data, this year titled "Foreclosure Exposure," community activism group ACORN said 47 percent of Latinos who got mortgages to buy homes in Santa Clara and San Benito counties in 2006 received "high cost" loans that the group considers to be synonymous with "subprime." Nearly 32 percent of African-American borrowers buying homes got high-cost loans, while only 8.5 percent of white borrowers did.
The trend is the same for those who refinanced loans - Latinos and African-Americans got subprime loans 23.5 percent and 22.8 percent of the time, respectively, compared with 9.4 percent among white borrowers.
"The racial disparity persists even among borrowers of the same income level," the report's authors wrote. Upper-income Latinos and African-Americans were more than five times as likely to get high-cost loans than upper-income whites, the study said. Upper-income borrowers were those with income of at least 120 percent of their area's median income.
A significant number of residents of the largely blue-collar city of 120,000 have taken out subprime loans -- expensive mortgages issued to people with poor credit.
In 2005, almost one-quarter of mortgages in the Vallejo-Fairfield metropolitan area were subprime loans, according to the Center for Responsible Lending's analysis of Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data.
Vallejo home prices fell 8.5 percent from November to March, according to DataQuick Information Services. For people who bought in recent months without putting any money down, that means they may owe more on their mortgage than the house is worth.
In a report called "Losing Ground," the center spotlights the Vallejo-Fairfield metropolitan area (which comprises all of Solano County) as a potential trouble spot, with one of the highest projected foreclosure rates in the country. The report predicted "that 23.8 percent of subprimes there will end in foreclosure," said Paul Leonard, director of the center's office in Oakland.
Areas with high foreclosure rates tend to share some characteristics. One is sinking home prices. Many "tend to be on the perimeter of major metropolitan areas rather than at the heart," said Leonard. "The housing prices in those areas are most subject to change. Often they tend to have a high concentration of minorities."
The people seeking help have almost identical stories, Hardy said. They bought homes using subprime loans. After a low initial rate, their monthly payments skyrocketed. Meanwhile, home prices in their neighborhoods went down, so they cannot easily sell or refinance. The result is that the homeowners owe more on their homes than the houses are worth.
Hardy said her clients tend to be blue-collar workers who earn close to the median income for Solano County, which is $75,400 for a family of four. Some of them used what are called stated-income loans, meaning a loan officer allowed them to claim that their earnings were higher than they are.
They bought homes about two years ago, using a type of mortgage loan in which they made low, interest-only payments for two years, followed by 28 years of adjustable-rate payments. Usually they did not make down payments. Once the initial two years were up, their monthly mortgage payments shot up.
"Nobody sat down with them and said if your interest rate goes up just 2 percent, here's what your house payments will be," she said. "These people all of a sudden are getting notices that in 60 days their house payments will go up $600 or $800 a month, and they say 'I can't do that.' "
"Until six months ago, we could almost always save the person's investment, either by helping them to refinance or explaining that they needed to sell and get their equity out before foreclosure," said Martin Eichner, director of dispute resolution at Project Sentinel, a nonprofit HUD counseling agency in Sunnyvale.
"But more and more, the calls we're getting are from people who bought on a shoestring and have few, if any, options to avoid the foreclosure. They haven't built up any equity and they put themselves in loans that were essentially doomed to fail with 100 percent financing and/or negative amortization."
But a series of interviews with subprime borrowers, mortgage lenders, appraisers, current and former regulators, and the inspector general of the Department of Housing and Urban Development paints a different picture — of a widespread pattern of questionable lending practices and outright fraud that has already sparked a wave of criminal and civil actions against various players in the $10 trillion market for residential mortgages.
Questionable mortgage practices can take on many forms, but the fall into two broad categories:
- Predatory lending. In this case, complex mortgage terms and interest rate risks were not fully explained as required by federal law. The borrower is usually the victim.
- Mortgage fraud. In these cases, often carried out by sophisticated swindlers, the lender is typically the victim.
As the housing market boomed in the early part of this decade, lenders proliferated with deals that often seemed too good to be true. To be sure, some borrowers - eager to "cash out" their rising home equity generated by the housing boom - were too quick to refinance at below-market interest rates and artificially low monthly payments.
Canadian Banks and The Great Depression
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