Why Is Obama Holding Back Hundreds of Billions in Housing Aid?

By Glen Ford
Created 09/12/2012 – 00:24
A Black Agenda Radio commentary

The Obama housing policy has been to let the banks handle the crisis however they see fit, while refusing to spend hundreds of billions authorized by Congress for housing relief. Protestors keep calling for the head of Edward Demarco, of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, for failing to save underwater homeowners. But Demarco is only carrying out Obama’s housing policies.

Why Is Barack Obama Holding Back Hundreds of Billions In Housing Aid?

Protesters associated with the Occupy Wall Street movement charge the housing agencies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac with refusing to lower the mortgage principles on 15 million homeowners who are underwater, their houses worth less than what they owe. The problem, say these activists, is Edward Demarco, acting director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The protesters, including Occupy Our Homes and Right to the City, have been careful to frame Demarco as the problem; they’ve been calling for his head for many months. But Demarco is just a cog in a very big wheel, a career civil servant who is faithfully carrying out his president’s housing policies. Demarco deserves to be demonized, but President Obama is the real villain, here.

Although he oversaw the biggest bank bailout in U.S. history, Barack Obama has long rejected any bailout of homeowners. Before the financial meltdown, back in early 2008, candidate Obama opposed any form of moratorium on home foreclosures, putting him to the right of candidate John Edwards, who wanted a mandatory halt to foreclosures, and Hillary Clinton, who favored a voluntary moratorium. In the first two years of his presidency, it was Obama, not the minority Republicans, who stood in the way of a bailout of homeowners, even as his administration and the Federal Reserve funneled trillions of dollars to Wall Street. As reported in the New York Times, last month, the Obama administration refused to spend hundreds of billions allocated by Congress for housing relief, until the program expired in 2010. The money was just sitting there, unspent – no Republicans were blocking it – while five million families lost their homes. 

According to the Times story, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner told Obama that he would not spend money on housing even if another $100 billion was available. Geithner and Obama flaunted the specific will of Congress, refusing to come to the aid of those populations and regions most affected by the housing collapse. Almost $6.7 billion dollars set aside for the Hardest Hit Program sat idle in Treasury Department accounts for two years, because Geithner managed to spend only three percent of the money. 

This was no accident or oversight, but deliberate and consistent Obama administration policy to leave the housing crisis for the banks to deal with in ways they saw fit. Federal intervention might upset the banks’ careful calibrations of how many families to dispossess, how many houses to put back on the market – and when – in order to keep the banks’ books looking healthy. It was never in the cards that the Obama team would support widespread reductions in mortgage principles. Their job, as they saw it, was to protect the bankers’ bottom lines, and to hell with the millions of Americans – disproportionately Black and brown – who got thrown into the street.

Yet, many activists, waving the Occupy Wall Street banner, insist that a bureaucrat named Edward Demarco is the devil behind all of this suffering. Even in protest, they can’t bring themselves to tell the whole truth – the truth that the people most need to know: that President Obama has callously allowed millions to be made homeless in his steadfast service to Wall Street. 

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