Belmont Club

The Trillion Dollar Men

An eight year old article from City Journal describes how activist and community organizations, plus banks eager to lend, turned the low cost mortgage scene into what it is today. (Hat tip: Hot Air) How many of us read the City Journal article in 2000 and how many recognized it’s import? As a mental exercise think this: what article you are reading today will you look back on in a decade and say “Wow! What a bummer?”

“To avoid the possibility of a denied or delayed application,” advises the NCRC in its deadpan tone, “lending institutions have an incentive to make formal agreements with community organizations.” By intervening—even just threatening to intervene—in the CRA review process, left-wing nonprofit groups have been able to gain control over eye-popping pools of bank capital, which they in turn parcel out to individual low-income mortgage seekers. A radical group called ACORN Housing has a $760 million commitment from the Bank of New York; the Boston-based Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America has a $3-billion agreement with the Bank of America; a coalition of groups headed by New Jersey Citizen Action has a five-year, $13-billion agreement with First Union Corporation. Similar deals operate in almost every major U.S. city. Observes Tom Callahan, executive director of the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance, which has $220 million in bank mortgage money to parcel out, “CRA is the backbone of everything we do.” …

The result of all this activity, argues the CEO of one midsize bank, is that “banks are promising to make loans they would have made anyway, with some extra aggressiveness on risky mortgages thrown in.” Many bankers—and even some CRA advocates—share his view. As one Fed economist puts it, the assertion that CRA was needed to force banks to see profitable lending opportunities is “like saying you need the rooster to tell the sun to come up. It was going to happen anyway.” And indeed, a survey of the lending policies of Chicago-area mortgage companies by a CRA-connected community group, the Woodstock Institute, found “a tendency to lend in a wide variety of neighborhoods”—even though the CRA doesn’t apply to such lenders. …

This policy—”America’s best mortgage program for working people,” NACA calls it—is an experiment with extraordinarily high risks. There is no surer way to destabilize a neighborhood than for its new generation of home buyers to lack the means to pay their mortgages—which is likely to be the case for a significant percentage of those granted a no-down-payment mortgage based on their low-income classification rather than their good credit history.

Hindsight is interesting especially to those who have no regrets, nor any desire to have them.

Regrets, I’ve had a few;
But then again, too few to mention.
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption.
I planned each charted course;
Each careful step along the byway,
But more, much more than this,
I did it my way.
Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew.
But through it all, when there was doubt,
I ate it up and spit it out.
I faced it all and I stood tall;
And did it my way.

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