Laura Gottesdiener: A Dream Foreclosed

What follows is a brief summary of Laura’s great talk, but better still — listen to the whole thing here.  (beware, we forgot to promptly turn off the recorder after the talk ended.)

Laura’s book A Dream Foreclosedoriginated from her efforts to follow housing activists around the country. Her first point is that the crisis did not really start in 2007, given the situation many poor communities had long been living in.  But she began her analysis from ’07, which she claims was first and foremost a foreclosure crisis. she notes that retorts to the effect that the crisis was not so bad compared to the Great Depression, is just false when analysed by foreclosure rates.  We have also not adequately appreciated how people were literally being thrown out of their hoses, sometimes in the middle of the night, with children … in other words the kind of real lived horribleness we don’t really notice when we talk about the crisis as concerning mortgage backed securities.

She visited about a dozen cities focusing on housing organizing, and found the best activity was coming from African-American-led such activism.  Speaking for example of Omuju village, she talked about notions of “illegitimate ownership” and the basic effort of these groups to re-define ownership relations when existing law would find it appropriate to kick people out on the street in order to leave space vacant.  This idea of questioning the “legitimacy” of legally claimed property rights is something really worth our investigation.

She explored the notion of “ownership relations” as coming out of institutionalized racism when it comes to African American property rights.  In this vein, she gave a great explanation of the history of racist lending practices in the US going back to the 1970s, including, specifically, previously legal “red-lining”, wherein the Federal Housing Administration basically refused to back loans in “red-lined” communities which … what do you know … were basically all African American. Even when express red-lining was outlawed by the Fair Housing and Fair Lending Acts in response to decades of housing organizing, the resulting regime was one in which banks exploited the pent-up high demand in these communities by introducing practices of wide-scale deceit and consumer fraud to put people in unpayable mortgages, which then through securitization, were taken off the books of the banks.  The result was that foreclosure was two times as high in African American neighborhoods, in no small part driven by the indefensibly higher rates afforded to otherwise similarly situated black home owners.  She discussed varieties of activist responses these communities brought to bear, such as “home liberations”, mainly since 2009/2010.

She discussed possible solutions, like the Community Land Trust, wherein the land remains the property of the community through the trust (the home owner only owning the house), and the trust is run by the community — thus giving neighbors a role in determining how gentrifying/speculative offers of sale are handled in good times, and how non-homeowner payment is handled in bad.  The Trust further retains a right of first refusal to purchase the house in the event of a need for foreclosure. In short, the trust is there to resist displacement of community members at all times.

Finally, she discussed the current supposedly rising market, and how despite being better than a continuing falling one, is, because of the fact that so many African Americns already lost their homes, basically serving to re-distribute wealth along racial lines (again). Moreover, the housing recovery is hugely (again) based on speculation, as evidenced by the fact that homeownership rates are still dropping. This is because most purchases are being made by private equity firms and other financial institutions.

Laura’s talk stimulated great interest among Altbankers on these issues, most importantly regarding the promise activism in these areas provides.