People often suggest to me how frustrating it must have been, being a Member of Congress, because things move so slowly in Washington, DC.
Nope. Not true. The job is what you make of it.
Let me give you an example: our work against foreclosure fraud.
During my last few months in office, the evidence accumulated that there was a nationwide wave of foreclosure fraud, perpetrated by the big banks. Mortgage securitization had sliced and diced mortgages to such a great extent that in many cases, the banks had no idea who owed what to whom. When homeowners were unable to make their mortgage payments, the banks had to do something. So they hired unscrupulous lawyers and other henchmen, who simply fabricated the paperwork needed to deprive families of their homes.
Now, to be fair, these families were usually behind in their mortgage payments. But that did not give the banks any right or excuse to commit forgery and perjury. If forced to choose between a destitute family and a crooked bank, I’ll go with the destitute family. Because I know that the crooked bank won’t end up sleeping under a bridge.
Our legislative options were nonexistent. The Dodd-Frank Act already had passed, so we couldn’t piggyback on that. Congress was utterly preoccupied with extension of the Obama middle-class tax cuts and the Bush tax breaks for the rich; any amendments that I offered to that would have been ruled out of order, for not being “germane.” And then there was the impediment of the Senate. As Sen. Durbin had poignantly observed the year before, the banks “frankly own this place.”
Nevertheless, there were things that we could do – especially when we had a Senior Policy Advisor like Matt Stoller, who kept coming up with things to do:
- I told other Members of Congress how to establish a mandatory mediation program like the one that we had in Orange County, which had cut foreclosures in half.
- We recorded an eight-minute speech called “Fraud Factories” explaining the problem, with some startling examples (like one homeowner whose home was foreclosed without even having a mortgage). That speech quickly zoomed to more than 100,000 views on YouTube.
- As it turned out, many of the people who watched that videos were reporters, looking to learn more. That led to more than a dozen interviews, many of which were with national media.
- We held a news conference in Orlando, on the lawn of a homeowner whose bank had tried to break into her home, and change her locks, without a court order.
- We sent a letter to the Financial Stability Oversight Council, the council of key federal economic policymakers established by the Dodd-Frank Act, and we pointed out that: (a) the banks couldn’t properly account for trillions of dollars in assets, and (b) this constituted a potential “systemic risk” that the Council should address.
- I joined with Chairman Barney Frank and Rep. Corrine Brown to send a letter to Fannie Mae, one of the biggest players, asking Fannie Mae to dismiss four Florida foreclosure mills who were under investigation for fraud. And Fannie Mae did. Three months ago, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac also decided to terminate their contracts with foreclosure mills nationwide.
- We called for President Obama to veto H.R. 3808, a bill which had the potential to let the banks off the hook, and President Obama did veto the bill.
- We called for a national moratorium on foreclosures, until it was confirmed that foreclosure fraud had stopped.
I didn’t get the national moratorium that I asked for, but Bank of America, GMAC and JP Morgan Chase instituted their own moratoria, covering 23 million mortgages. They kept them in place until they were satisfied that they weren’t conspiring to defraud their homeowners and the courts.
The result was a 27% drop in foreclosures, due to the quashing of “robo-signing” and other types of foreclosure fraud. This gave many homeowners enough breathing room to get back on track with their payments. According to RealtyTrac, that saved almost 600,000 homes.
I don’t know who those 600,000 families are, and they sure don’t know who I am. But I still feel good about it.
I hope to be back in Congress after the November election, and I hope that the Democrats are back in charge in the House of Representatives. I’ve been working hard toward both goals, and you’ve been helping. But whoever is in charge of the House, if I’m back there, I’m sure that I’ll find plenty to do. Because the job is not just the voting.
As Rep. Brown told me before I was elected, the best thing about the job is this: “all the good things that you can do for people.”
Alan Grayson© 2010-17 FORECLOSURE FRAUD | by DinSFLA. All rights reserved.