Why Does Mel Watt Continue to Waver on Homeowner Relief?

By Nancy Wilberg Ricks, Senior Policy and Communications Strategist, NCLR

HousingDiscrimination_blogpic_newMore than five million homeowners in the United States are paying much more for their homes than they are worth. Ironically, one of those homeowners is Sylvia Alvarez, who heads the Housing & Education Alliance, a leading housing counseling agency in Tampa, Fla., and an NCLR Affiliate. Alvarez and her dedicated staff have helped many families escape unsustainable mortgages.

Alvarez is an ideal candidate for principal reduction, but she cannot get help because her mortgage is owned by Fannie Mae. Most of the largest banks have granted some families principal write-downs, understanding that reducing the principal on a home for a struggling homeowner is a win-win. Families stay in their homes, continue to pay their mortgages, and stabilize the economy.

After the housing crisis, many experts knew that the solution to a healthier housing market was large-scale principal reduction, and the best place to start was with the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), which manages Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Consumer advocates fought very hard to ensure that FHFA had a strong leader and advocate for homeowners.

That’s why NCLR and our allies rallied for Mel Watt, a former U.S. representative and housing proponent, to be appointed as director of FHFA. We fought for Watt so he could fight for homeowners like Alvarez who need relief now. In 2013 we won the fight, and Watt was confirmed as the leader of the most powerful housing entity in the business.

Two years later, we still wait for progress. During the first year of his leadership at FHFA, Watt wanted to study the issue. Research points to obvious benefits of helping homeowners keep their homes, and even the 2013 Congressional Budget Office reported that a principal reduction plan could assist 1.2 million borrowers and save Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac $2.8 billion.

Yet Watt wavered.

Mel Watt

Mel Watt

Now, eight years since the height of the crisis, Watt and FHFA refuse to implement principal reduction. Families pay mortgage dollars that far exceed the value of their homes, and many cannot keep up. In the meantime, banks and investors are pushing out homeowners and acquiring properties at pennies on the dollar. This devastates communities. Turning long-seasoned homeowner neighborhoods into rental communities might not seem bad, but studies indicate that homeownership translates into stability and greater investment in one’s own neighborhood.

When will FHFA and Mr. Watt finally give households the relief they need? Principal reduction remains the solution. It would finally restore homes to their true value. It would also help families hold on to the largest investment most will ever make.

This Week in Immigration Reform – Week Ending March 28

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Week Ending March 28, 2014

This week in immigration reform: House Democrats release a “Demand a Vote” petition, seeking to pressure House Republican leadership into giving the country a vote immigration reform; the Congressional Budget Office scores the House bipartisan immigration reform bill HR 15 and finds that it will cut the deficit by $900 billion over 20 years; and a new poll finds that Texas Republicans have no electoral consequences to fear if they were to vote in favor of immigration reform.  NCLR kept the community informed in a number of news pieces this week, with staff quoted in the Associated Press, Fox News Latino, BuzzFeed, El Diario, Hispanically Speaking News, and the Miami Herald.

–House Democrats release discharge petition in attempt to advance immigration reform.  House Democrats, seeking to break through House Republicans’ refusal to give America a vote on immigration reform, released a discharge petition this Wednesday in an attempt to force a vote on their immigration reform bill HR 15.  NCLR applauded the move and called out House Republican leadership as being the foremost roadblock to immigration reform.

The petition would need 218 signatures to bring HR 15 to a vote on the House floor.  You can check here to see if your Representative has signed the petition.

NCLR is telling House Republican leadership that they need to put reform legislation up for a vote.  Join us by using our Twitter tool here!

–CBO scores HR15, finds it will cut deficit by $900 billion over 20 years.   This week the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported that the House bipartisan immigration reform bill, HR 15, would cut the deficit by $900 billion over 20 years.  The CBO’s findings confirm, yet again, that passing immigration reform is a no-brainer.  As La Opinion, the largest Spanish language newspaper in the U.S., points out in its editorial: “The CBO, with its independent analysis, is showing a path to cutting federal spending and improving the economy. Not taking it into account reflects irresponsibility when it comes to seeking solutions to economic challenges.”

–Poll finds that voting in favor of reform wouldn’t hurt Texas Reps.  A new poll, commissioned by the Partnership for a New American Economy, finds that for three Texas Congressmen – Reps. Sam Johnson R-Texas), Lamar Smith (R-Texas), and Kevin Brady (R-Texas) – voting in favor of immigration reform wouldn’t hurt their approval among likely voters.  These results debunk certain Republicans’ claims that passing immigration reform would hurt their electoral fortunes in November.

Weekly Washington Outlook – March 24, 2014

White House at Night

What to Watch This Week:

Congress:

The House:

On Monday, the House will meet in the afternoon to name seven post offices.  Under suspension of the rules, the House will also vote on the Philippines Charitable Giving Assistance Act (H.R. 3771) and the Cooperative and Small Employer Charity Pension Flexibility Act (H.R. 4275).  These measures would provide a charitable deduction for those contributing to typhoon relief before April 15 and provide a permanent exemption to coop and charity organizations with multiple employer pensions from a 2006 pension law that required more rigorous funding standards and would allow groups to opt out of the exemption, respectively.  On Tuesday, the House will consider the Preventing Government Waste and Protecting Coal Mining Jobs in America (H.R. 2824).  This bill would require the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement to implement a 2008 rule governing the disposal of mining waste near streams and waterways and bar the office from implementing any new rules without conducting a five-year assessment.  On Wednesday and Thursday, the House will take up the Ensuring Public Involvement in the Creation of National Monuments Act (H.R. 1459), a bill aimed to limit the president’s authority to designate National Monuments under the Antiquities Act to one per state for each term.  It is possible that the House could also consider legislation relating to the so-called “doc fix” and a Ukrainian aid package combining Russian sanctions.

The Senate:

The Senate returns Monday and will consider S. 2124, the Ukraine Act, which is aimed at supporting the sovereignty and democracy in Ukraine, among other purposes.  The Senate on Monday and throughout the week will vote on several judicial nominations.  Following passage of S. 2124, the Senate will proceed to S. 2148, a bill to retroactively extend lapsed unemployment benefits.

White House:

On Monday, the president will arrive in The Netherlands. In the morning, he will tour the Rijksmuseum and hold a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Rutte of The Netherlands. In the afternoon, President Obama will participate in a bilateral meeting with President Xi Jinping of China at the United States Ambassador’s residence before arriving at the World Forum to participate in the Nuclear Security Summit.  In the evening, the President will attend a G-7 leaders meeting on Ukraine at Catshuis, the official residence of the Prime Minister. Afterwards, he will join His Majesty King Willem-Alexander for dinner at the Royal Palace.  On Tuesday, the president will visit the World Forum to participate in the Nuclear Security Summit. Afterwards, Mr. Obama will hold a bilateral press conference with Prime Minister Rutte.  In the evening, he will participate in a bilateral meeting with the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates, at the United States Ambassador’s residence, and a trilateral meeting with President Park Geun-Hye of the Republic of Korea and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan.  President Obama will then meet with employees and family members of the U.S. Embassy to The Netherlands. The president will then travel to Brussels, Belgium where he will remain overnight.  On Wednesday, the president will visit Flanders Field Cemetery with Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo of Belgium and His Majesty King, Philippe. In the afternoon, he will participate in the EU-U.S. Summit at the Council of the European Union. Afterwards, President Obama will meet with employees and family members of the U.S. Tri-Mission to Belgium, EU, and NATO before meeting with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. In the evening, he will deliver remarks at The Centre for Fine Arts (BOZAR) and then travel to Rome, Italy where he will remain overnight.  On Thursday, the president will visit the Vatican where he will meet with His Holiness Pope Francis followed by a meeting with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin. Afterwards, the Mr. Obama will participate in a bilateral meeting with President Giorgio Napolitano of Italy at the Quirinal Palace. Later, the president will participate in a bilateral meeting and joint press conference with Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy at Villa Madama. In the evening, the president will tour the Colosseum and meet with employees and families of the U.S. Tri-Mission to Italy, The Holy See, and the UN Agencies in Rome.  Finally, on Friday, the president will travel from Rome to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. While in Saudi Arabia, the president will participate in a bilateral meeting with His Majesty Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  He will remain overnight in Saudi Arabia.

Supreme Court:

The Supreme Court on Tuesday will hear oral arguments on Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius.  Both cases address religious freedom and access to contraception under the Affordable Care Act.  Continue reading

What Happens When We Put More Money in Workers’ Pockets?

By Alicia Criado, Field Coordinator, Economic Policy Project

Labor Day Banner Photo 3_heavy machineryIf we raise the minimum wage, workers will have more money in their pockets to spend, which would provide businesses with more customers.  And businesses with more customers need to hire more workers.  Everybody wins—business owners, workers, and especially our struggling economy.  However, thanks to a recent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report, the debate is swirling around whether raising the minimum wage will actually create or eliminate jobs.

The bottom line is that the CBO got some things right, but it also got some things wrong.

Here is where they got it wrong.  The report contradicts the latest research that either predicts job creation or little to no job loss if we raise the minimum wage.  The CBO claims that once the minimum wage is fully increased to $10.10, total employment would be reduced by about 500,000 jobs in the second half of 2016. Continue reading

A Budget to Earn the Respect of Latino Voters

(This was originally published on The Hill newspaper’s Congress Blog)

By Javier Palomarez and Eric Rodriguez

federalbudget_bookThe upcoming weeks of bipartisan budget negotiations offer a fresh chance for Congress to put an end to the brinksmanship and discord and prove to the public that it can govern responsibly and get the economy growing again. Latinos, who have been especially hard hit by recent budget decisions, will be watching closely to see what emerges. If lawmakers really want to earn the respect—and the votes—of Latinos, they should agree on a long-term budget solution that stops the damaging sequester cuts, restores investments in workers and businesses, and grows the economy.

Like all Americans, Hispanic voters pegged job creation and the economy as their number one priority in the last election. Yet the budget decisions of the last three years fly directly in the face of those concerns. The most egregious example is sequestration, the senseless budget cuts which are set to take effect for a second straight year in January if Congress doesn’t act.  Continue reading