The Obama administration and state law enforcement officials from across the country are currently in negotiation with several of the nation’s biggest banks, and there’s a critical choice at hand.
The administration can cut a deal that lets Wall Street off the hook and protects the banks from legal prosecution and investigation. Or the Justice Department can commit to a full investigation into the banks’ and the damage they’ve caused. By opting for the latter, President Obama and Attorney General Holder would create real accountability that puts us on the road to recovery and prevents this reckless irresponsibility in the future.
For the ColorOfChange community, the choice is clear. Our nation needs and deserves a full investigation, accountability and relief for the millions of people hurt during this crisis. Our members are mobilizing now to ensure that the Obama administration hears our perspective loud and clear. Black folks and ColorOfChange in particular supported Barack Obama when he ran for president, in part because of his vision for corporate responsibility and a more fair economic system.
Now, the president has an opportunity to do what’s right and protect homeowners — those who have been foreclosed, and those who continue to face foreclosure.
This issue is of particular importance to our community. There’s a saying that when America gets a cold, black folks get the flu. The housing crisis and economic downturn have decimated black communities across the country. The mortgage industry targeted prospective homebuyers with toxic loans and ballooning interest rates. It engaged in systemic predatory lending and mortgage fraud including unlawful foreclosures, false documentation, and “robo-signing” of foreclosure documents.
Over the last three years, the nation’s six biggest banks received $160 billion in bailout funds, and secretly borrowed another $7 trillion from the Federal Reserve.
While getting bailed out by taxpayers, these same banks were raking in record profits and paying their CEOs millions. Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley together paid an income tax rate of only 11 percent in 2009 and 2010. Because they didn’t pay the tax rate they’re legally supposed to pay, the public lost out on $13 billion in tax revenue that could have been used for vital public benefits and critically-underfunded social services.
Historically, home ownership has provided a path to the middle-class for African Americans. It’s offered an opportunity to build wealth that could be passed on from generation to generation. Home ownership gave Black folks and other communities the necessary assets to support educational opportunities for their children or build a nest egg after a lifetime of hard work. Due in part to a history of legal and structural inequality that blocked opportunities to business ownership, black people have a larger percentage of our wealth tied up in our homes rather than stocks or retirement funds. So as a result of subprime and predatory lending, foreclosures, and plummeting home values, black wealth has fallen to its lowest level in 25 years.
We are at a critical point in addressing the present economic crisis, which is far from over. Even among homeowners who are current on their payments, plummeting home values have pushed an estimated 15 million people “underwater,” meaning that they now owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth.
In light of the ongoing crisis, tens of thousands of people are joining a movement to support homeowners fighting foreclosure, with many taking action through eviction defenses, home liberations, and protests at banks and foreclosure auctions. Americans are demonstrating a groundswell of public outrage and there’s clear consensus that the banks should not be allowed to return to business as usual. The millions of Americans who have suffered through this crisis need the administration to stand with us.
We cannot settle on a bad deal for America’s financial future. We cannot remain silent while the banks responsible for this crisis are let off the hook, and we can not accept a settlement that deals with America’s cold but ignores Black folks’ flu.
Rashad Robinson is executive director of ColorOfChange.org, a national civil rights organization with over 800,000 members.