Thrown out of our homes and out of the GOP budget

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ArleneHoltBakerbox

(NNPA)—Last year when I spoke at a forum in Atlanta on the foreclosure crisis, I met Gloria McAlpin. Gloria and her late husband Langdon, a police officer, bought their home in 1990. Gloria’s husband was struck by a car while directing traffic in the line of duty. He became permanently disabled and they could no longer afford their mortgage payments. When they went to refinance they were given an adjustable rate mortgage, which increased their payments to 88 percent of their income. Atlanta Legal Aid, a non-profit that counsels homeowners, stepped in to guide Gloria through the confusing and sometimes misleading path of mortgage adjustments. Thanks to their hard work, Gloria and her husband were able to save their home—but one month later Gloria’s husband passed away.

But what Gloria and her husband experienced is endemic throughout African-American communities across the country. A study done last year by the Center for Responsible Lending showed that African-Americans were disproportionately affected by the foreclosure crisis. They estimated that 11 percent of African-American homeowners already have lost or are in imminent risk of losing their home.

In the face of this still raging crisis, Republicans in Congress have insisted on eliminating funding for organizations that offer foreclosure counseling, ensuring that others like Gloria never get the help they need.

This critical funding also provides housing counseling assistance for seniors, first-time homebuyers and renters. The budget bill also cuts funding for combating mortgage fraud including predatory lending, which was a key cause of the housing crisis. These cuts are particularly brutal for minority communities that depend on these services in order to access affordable housing.

If we can’t get this funding restored, many housing counseling organizations will be forced to shut their doors and abandon the communities that need them most.

Housing counselors provide a vital service to homeowners facing foreclosure. They help homeowners navigate the red tape that big Wall Street banks continue to put up to obstruct those applying for mortgage modifications.

While the headlines are gone from the front page, we know the foreclosure crisis continues to harm our communities. Every one of us knows someone who has been directly affected—if we haven’t been affected ourselves. According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, a record 4.6 percent of all mortgage loans were in foreclosure at the end of 2010. The impact of foreclosure isn’t limited to the surrounding homes and neighborhoods. Foreclosures depress the housing market and make all of our homes worth less. Today’s housing prices are 31.8 percent lower than in the summer of 2006—before the housing market imploded.

Preventing more foreclosures is critical to stabilizing our housing market and the economy. Yet politicians in Washington are determined to give tax breaks to the wealthy while programs that benefit the middle class and poor get pushed aside. Adding further insult to injury, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the Wall Street bailout cost taxpayers $19 billion. By contrast, the housing counseling program costs a mere $88 million—less than one half of one percent of the Wall Street bailout. We know from the collapse of our economy that redistributing wealth to those at the very top creates a dangerous imbalance. By slashing government funding for housing counseling just to save what amounts to pennies in our federal budget, politicians stand to put our economy at risk again by creating ripe conditions for more foreclosures.

Republicans seem determined to take us backwards to a country that throws its poor and middle class onto the streets while giving record bonuses to corporate CEOs. We know America can do better than that. Strong communities and vibrant neighborhoods are the glue that binds individuals to our broader collective. And, only when we rebuild communities will we truly be able to realize an economic recovery that works for all.

(Arlene Holt Baker is executive vice president of the AFL-CIO, the largest labor federation with 12.5 million members.)

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