In our sound bite culture, there's little time or space to hear what people have to say, even on the most important issues. The mortgage aid and housing rescue bill agreed upon by U.S. senators yesterday is one such issue for builders. For those interested in more information and context for this legislation, here are excerpts from the Congressional Record. (Full text is available on http://thomas.loc.gov/).
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.)
"Just the other day, I spoke to a packed room in Kalispell, Mont., at a forum on financial investments. This was the day after the announcement of JPMorgan Chase's acquisition of Bear Stearns. The very first question asked was from a local man who wanted to know why the government felt it necessary to risk nearly $30 billion to aid one of Wall Street's largest banks but families or farmers or small businesses in the same situation were simply out of luck. His point hit home with me, and it pointed out the fact that we, the government, need to address the problems that plague the housing market. I am very pleased that Chairman (Christopher) Dodd (D-Conn.) is holding a hearing on this deal tomorrow to address the bailout of Bear Stearns, a hearing I called for when I was talking to those Montanans in Kalispell.
Concerns about this issue are growing and getting louder in my state of Montana, which many local economists have noted is resistant to the immediate effects of many national economic trends. We are all very aware of the housing crisis that is rippling across this country, affecting homeowners and the economy as a whole. To date, we have been lucky. Montana has not fared as poorly as many of the other states, which have seen whole communities torn apart by foreclosure after foreclosure, hurting families and lowering property values.
But we are still concerned. I am concerned for the families in Bozeman, Mont., who work hard and play by the rules, yet can't find a decent place to live that they can afford. I am concerned for the workers in Bonner, Mont., who lost their jobs at the Stimson lumber mill because the collapse of the housing market has depressed the demand for lumber. I am concerned for communities throughout rural America where opportunity is slipping away because of the failure of our national leadership to invest in basic infrastructure that connects us to one another.
The current housing market is widely considered to be the worst since the Great Depression. It has spread from home prices to student loans, to municipal bonds, to commodities, and to virtually every sector of the economy. Unfortunately, the administration has put a larger priority in taking care of Wall Street's big bankers than the millions of folks who are struggling to pay the bills, make their mortgages, save for their children's college tuition, or invest some money for a secure retirement, and that needs to change. We must take action to strengthen the economy for all Americans and prevent this crisis from spreading."
Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.)
"If America is going to ride to the rescue of investment banks on Wall Street, will it at least provide some shelter, some rescue to those who are about to lose their homes on Main Street? I think it should because it is not just a matter of those poor, unfortunate people facing foreclosure. A mortgage foreclosure is not an isolated, single-family event. It is not just a matter of a family losing their home. That lost home foreclosed upon, sold in your neighborhood, brings down the value of your home.
So 2 million Americans facing foreclosures has a ripple effect. It means 44 million homeowners who are making their mortgage payments every single month will see the value of their homes decline. As I said on the floor yesterday, what is the value of my home in Springfield, Ill.? If I ask an appraiser, they will say: I will look around your neighborhood; let's see what similar houses are selling for. If the comparable values are going down because there is a foreclosure, a distress sale involved, the value of my home has diminished. That will happen to 44 million homeowners across America because of 2 million mortgage foreclosures. So this has a negative impact on a lot of innocent people and innocent families.
It is not a matter of crossing our arms and saying: Well, those folks made a bad decision; they are going to lose their homes, and isn't it a darn shame; maybe they will be more careful next time. It has an impact on the community, neighbors, and neighborhoods, and it has an impact on consumer confidence. Over 70 percent of Americans today say they will not buy a home, not because they cannot find financing, but because they don't think it is a good investment. They don't want to stretch themselves, as many of us have in our lives to get into a home, for fear that investment of $500,000 today may be worth only $450,000 a year from now.
As a result, our housing industry is flat on its back. It is not just developers. It is not just Realtors. It is home builders, it is skilled craftsmen, it is the suppliers of carpeting, furniture, and all the items that make a new home. They are all hurting because of the housing industry."
Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.)
"Many Americans are in danger of losing their homes today because of the housing crisis. It not only affects individual homeowners who could lose a home through foreclosure or the inability to pay the mortgage and they just walk away from their home, but it affects every home in that neighborhood. There is a Chicago study that shows a single foreclosure, just one foreclosure in your neighborhood, will have the immediate impact of reducing your property value by about 1.5 percent or about $3,000, on average. The U.S. Conference of Mayors pointed out that the current decline in home values across the nation reflects a loss of value of over $1.2 trillion, having a major impact on property tax revenues of local governments. The whole community is affected by the housing crisis, not just the individual homeowner who may lose his or her home.
If you happen to live in a home that you need to sell-you move, there is a change of life and you need to deal with putting your house on the market; maybe you have a contract to buy another house and you plan to sell your house-I tell you, the housing market is not good today; you are affected by the housing crisis. It is hard to find people who are willing to buy a home. They are concerned about declining values. Everyone is affected by this housing crisis.
Homeownership is critically important to the safety of our neighborhoods. Study after study shows that where you have a large percentage of homeownership, you have better schools and you have less crime. That was actually documented in that Chicago study I referred to earlier, where they showed there was a direct relationship between foreclosures in a neighborhood and the increase of violent crime in a neighborhood.
I have heard many people say: Isn't this the problem of people who entered into mortgages they should not have entered into or bought homes they should not have bought or couldn't afford? In some cases, that is true. In many cases, it is not. But the declining economy and the housing crisis affects all of us. We have a responsibility to help and to do something that is positive for our economy and the housing crisis.
This is not an isolated situation, what was happening in this Baltimore neighborhood. In Maryland, the foreclosures have increased-since June, where Maryland ranked 40th in the nation, doing fairly well competitively, to now 18th in the nation in the number of foreclosures. There was a 39-percent increase in foreclosures in the last quarter in the state of Maryland.
The Mortgage Bankers Association tells us that nationally the third quarter of 2007 was not only a record for the number of foreclosures, it was the highest ever recorded in the number of foreclosures in this country. Nationally, it is estimated that 2.2 million subprime mortgages, entered into between 1998 and 2006, are in jeopardy of foreclosure during the next two to three years, representing $160 billion of potential loss of wealth. The National Realtors Association has told us that home sales have dropped for the sixth consecutive month. Home prices are down, and they quantified it, between February 2008 and February 2007, a decline of 8 percent. Our economy is hurting. It is not just the homeowner.
There is a lot of talk about whether individuals went into this with full knowledge of the problems. Let me tell you, there have been a lot of people who have been victimized by the practices that are out there. There are many people who could have gone into traditional mortgages who went into subprime mortgages. It is particularly true in minority communities. Between 2005 and 2006, 50 percent of all the mortgages sold in the African-American community were subprime-50 percent to African Americans; 40 percent to Latinos. My point is this: There were neighborhoods that were targeted for subprime mortgages that could have qualified for traditional mortgages. These individuals have been victimized. I think allowing our revenue bonding authorities, our local housing authorities, to be able to do more to restructure those mortgages is the right thing for Congress to do."
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.)
"There is no doubt that the housing market in Florida is in shambles. Florida home sales last month were down 28 percent compared to this time last year. The median home price in Florida was down 14 percent. At the same time, foreclosures are skyrocketing. January's foreclosure rate ranked Florida third highest in the country. We had the second highest rate of total foreclosures nationwide, a 158-percent increase from last year. One area of Florida, Lee County, which includes Fort Myers, Cape Coral, an area that has been booming with growth, has the highest foreclosure rate in the nation, sadly, with 1 of every 86 homes entering foreclosure. In one estimate, nearly 200,000 homes in Florida will be lost this year and next year due to foreclosure. We have seen these horror stories on TV where the sheriff is knocking on the door and forces the family, with the children, out. If they are not home, he has to go in and take all of the furniture out of the home and put it on the front lawn.
This crisis is not limited to subprime mortgages or risky borrowers. It is destroying entire communities. The ripple effect translates into big losses for each state's economy-in Florida's case, a $36 billion decrease in home value and tax base."