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CRL's Response to Continuing Fallout on Wall Street

Monday, September 15, 2008

Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers are the latest corporate casualties in the financial crisis caused by abusive loans from reckless lenders. Even the former chair of the Mortgage Bankers Association now concedes that brokers, lenders and investors "forgot about [their] customers" because "making money and our commission checks were more important." In short, these loans never should have been made. The failure of Lehman and forced sale of Merrill underscore the need for stronger regulation of the mortgage market to prevent this from recurring, and, if we want to fix the economy, the need to modify the millions of bad loans that created this mess.

The federal government is devoting vast energy and taxpayer dollars to rescue the Wall Street firms that helped cause this catastrophe. That intervention is justified because it benefits us all by preserving stability in the nation's financial markets. But for a full economic recovery, federal officials need to apply the same urgency and commitment to prevent millions of families from losing their homes to foreclosures. If the lenders and investors who created the subprime fiasco deserve help, then surely so do the millions of families who face foreclosure because of the "unfair" and "deceptive" home loans—those are Fed Chairman Bernanke's words, not ours—that Wall Street was so eager to buy.

Ordinary people----rank-and-file families---are this country's engine of growth, accounting for 71 percent of economic activity, according to the Federal Reserve. When ordinary people hurt, we all suffer. Allowing mass foreclosures to continue hurts everyone: In addition to the economic devastation suffered by families losing their home, the 6.5 million foreclosures expected over the next several years will cause 45 million of their neighbors to see property values plummet by over $356 billion.

The housing bill passed by Congress in July, while a step in the right direction, offers families little help because it counts on industry to voluntarily do the right thing. It's not news to anyone that voluntary industry efforts over the last year have been wholly inadequate.

There are several actions Congress can take now:

  • Freeze foreclosure actions on existing mortgages for at least nine months so government and industry can get a handle on the deepening crisis.
  • Give bankruptcy judges the ability to modify overpriced home-loans to fair market values, a change that would keep more than 600,000 families in their homes. This would cost no tax dollars.
  • Ban the unfair practices that allowed abusive lending practices to flourish in the first place, including kickbacks to brokers for steering families into overpriced mortgages.
  • And perhaps most important, Treasury Secretary Paulson must seize the opportunity presented by the federal government's takeover of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae—the two largest suppliers of mortgage money in the world. Paulson now has the opportunity to modify mortgages to affordable levels for millions of Americans. Failure to do so would ignore the ultimate step required to end the economy's turmoil and restore it to health.

For more information: Kathleen Day at (202) 349-1871 or; Sharon Reuss at (919) 313-8527 or; or Ginna Green at (510) 379-5513 or