Monday, February 23, 2009

NAACP Action Alerts on DC Voting Rights and Mortgage Rescue Restructuring Bill

NAACP-supported voting rights legislation for the District of Columbia to be considered by the Full US Senate Tomorrow (02/24/09)

Despite the fact that they pay federal taxes, serve on juries and defend our Nation in times of war like most other Americans, the residents of the District of Columbia are barred from having voting representation on the floor of the U.S. House or Senate. This classic example of "taxation without representation" is contrary to everything that this nation is founded on. This means that more than half a million people, more than 57% of whom are African American (with Caucasians making up just over 30% of the population and 8.5% of the residents claiming Hispanic background), are paying money to and dying for a government in which they have no say. It also means that the federal government is receiving and spending $4 billion without having to account for it. In fact, the residents of the District of Columbia pay more federal taxes per capita than all but one other state.

To begin to correct this gross injustice, the Senate is scheduled to consider S. 160, the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act of 2009, beginning on Tuesday, February 24, 2009. The NAACP supports this legislation as a good first step toward the goal of full democratic voting representation in Congress for DC residents. S. 160 would add two voting members to the US House of Representatives – one to represent Washington, DC and one to represent Utah (Utah narrowly lost getting an additional congressional seat after the last US Census in 2000; officials in Utah believe that thousands of missionaries living abroad were unfairly excluded during the Census count.) This bill provides a "vote neutral" option by adding two additional seats most likely to be represented by a Democrat and a Republican.

S. 160, which was introduced by Senator Joseph Lieberman (CT) has bipartisan support, and the House companion, H.R. 157 is almost identical to legislation which passed the House last year by a strong bi-partisan margin.


NAACP-supported Homeowner Mortgage Rescue Restructuring bill scheduled for Wednesday vote by the US House of Representatives

In the United States today one home is foreclosed upon every thirteen seconds. Home foreclosures have hit the African American community especially hard: for decades predatory, sub-prime loans (which have led to many of the foreclosures) were targeted at African Americans and other racial and ethnic minorities. In 2006 and 2007, at least half of all the home loans sold to African-Americans and at least 40% of all the home loans that Latinos received where subprime. These disparities occurred even when people of color had similar qualifications to white applicants. It has been reported that communities of color will lose an estimated $213 billion of wealth as the result of foreclosures due to abusive subprime lending. For this reason predatory lending and home foreclosures have been and continue to be a major civil rights issue in America today.

We clearly need a multi-pronged approach to solving our Nation's foreclosure crisis and getting many of these homeowners into sustainable, long-term mortgages that accurately reflect the true market price of the home. One way to do this, at no cost to U.S. taxpayers, is to enact a minor reform of our nation's bankruptcy laws. Currently, if an individual files for bankruptcy, a judge cannot require a financial institution which is foreclosing on that person's home to renegotiate the loan to attempt to make it more reasonable and sustainable so that the person, and their family, can stay in their home. The subprime lenders who created this foreclosure crisis are able to seek relief through bankruptcy as well as investors, but homeowners trying to save their primary residence cannot.

Legislation to be considered by the full House of Representatives as early as this week (H.R. 200 the Helping Families Save Their Homes in Bankruptcy Act of 2009 introduced by Congressman John Conyers, MI) would close that loophole and allow impartial judges to require lenders to enter into loan modification negotiations with a person facing bankruptcy. Court supervised loan modifications are a major solution to help families avoid foreclosure while still paying a market-rate mortgage for their home. It is estimated that if enacted this legislation could reduce coming foreclosures by 20% -- amounting to 1.8 million homes at no additional cost to taxpayers or investors.

Many foreclosures today could be avoided, although this is not happening because we are currently relying on lenders to voluntarily enter into modification negotiations. As a result, only 3.5 percent of delinquent subprime loans received modifications in August 2008 – and in many cases, these "modifications" actually increased the borrower's monthly payments. Clearly, current voluntary efforts to avoid foreclosures are insufficient, and we need to give judges who are dealing with homeowners facing foreclosure more power.

Many of the impending foreclosures are unnecessary because the homeowner could afford to pay a market rate mortgage, for the full current value of the house – an outcome that is far preferable to foreclosure for homeowner and mortgage lender alike. All the lender would have to do is to modify the loan to make it economically rational, and sustainable. H.R. 200 would result in more mortgage modifications and fewer foreclosures, and could be a key tool in stemming the foreclosure crisis.

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