[Marxism] Valley residents make fighting foreclosures a community affair

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Mon Dec 8 12:19:50 MST 2008

Clearly the Chicago workers' struggle isn't the only example
of working people, many of them immigrants, organizing in a
collective manner to try to protect their living conditions.
They seem to suffer somewhat less from that philosophy of
"rugged individualism" from which we in the U.S. suffer so

It's not at all surprising that these workers are seeking to
obtain help from the churches and the higher authority which
the churches represent in their eyes. If earthly institutions
don't respond, another avenue of seeking assistance will soon
enough be sought out, as these workers are attempting to do.

One must also assume that these workers feel encouraged by 
Obama's election that they may be able to obtain some change
in these kinds of situations. Joaquin's cautionary notes are
quite well-taken, of course, in this regard. We're only at a
very early beginning stage of what will be a long, difficult
struggle. Thanks to the Internet we can learn about struggles
like these very quickly. The Chicago workers must feel greatly
encouraged that Obama has spoken up about their situation now.
We'll soon enough see if Obama continues to speak out about it,
and what, precisely, he will say and, more importantly, will do.

There's no way to know in advance which tactic will work and
to what extent they'll succeed or not, but this is a sign of
ferment among the working class and efforts within the class
to find collective methods of struggle. 

Pacoima used to be mostly Black, now it's increasingly Latino,
and I'm sure we can find other examples where the workers in
the United States are trying to find social methods by which
they can try to win a hearing for their grievances.

Walter Lippmann
Los Angeles, California

>From the Los Angeles Times
Valley residents make fighting foreclosures a community affair
Community leaders in Pacoima and other northeast San Fernando Valley areas 
have organized more than 500 Latino immigrant families to negotiate with banks 
as a group rather than individually.
By Jessica Garrison

December 8, 2008

Shortly after Father John Lasseigne took over last summer as head of
Mary Immaculate Church of Pacoima, a man and woman and their
well-dressed children came to him after Mass and asked the priest to
pray for them because they were about to lose their home.

The startling request was Lasseigne's introduction to the epidemic of
foreclosures afflicting his flock in the northeast San Fernando
Valley, a working-class, heavily immigrant area where more than 8,000
homes are either in default or have been foreclosed upon.

Over the last three months, Lasseigne and other community leaders
have come up with an unusual response: They have organized more than
500 Latino immigrant families who are behind on their payments into
teams that will seek to negotiate with banks as a group.

They also intend to compile detailed records of how and whether
lending institutions agree to modify loans -- information they say
could be given to government officials in an attempt to give
distressed homeowners more favorable terms.

"If we don't make progress with the banks, we certainly expect to
make progress with our elected officials," said Lasseigne, whose
congregation is a member of the community-organizing group One-LA, a
local affiliate of the left-leaning Industrial Areas Foundation.

The effort represents an unusual attempt at collective negotiation
between a community and banks, as well as information-sharing among
homeowners, housing experts say, and leaders in the northeast San
Fernando Valley say they hope it can be a model for other places.

It comes as policymakers grapple with the news, announced Friday,
that 1 in 10 U.S. homeowners with a mortgage were either one month
behind on a payment or in foreclosure at the end of September.

But the effort has also prompted skepticism from some who say it is
unrealistic to expect banks to bail out homeowners who got in way
over their heads -- especially as a group.

"The loans were not made en masse," said Tom Kelly, spokesman for
Chase Bank. "The issue of mortgages is a home-by-home,
mortgage-by-mortgage issue."

Modifying may be particularly tricky in an area such as the northeast
San Fernando Valley, where home values have fallen hundreds of
thousands of dollars from their level of a few years ago. That's
because many borrowers have low-paying jobs and poor credit -- and
may not be able to afford even a modified loan at a fixed rate under
strict lending standards.

Many in Pacoima and surrounding communities say they have to do
something -- and trying to negotiate on their own with banks does not
seem to be saving their homes.

The effort had its first big event Sunday, when about 60 homeowners
met at a law office in Pacoima with representatives of Chase Bank,
which now also handles loans serviced by Washington Mutual.

"Individually, they won't listen to us. If we come together as a
community, maybe we have a chance," said Jose Hernandez, a
28-year-old special education teacher at Arleta High School who is
hoping to save his parents' home, where he lives with his mother and
father, two sisters and three nieces, all of them pooling their
resources to scrape together the mortgage payment on a three-bedroom

Community leaders say the story of the Hernandez family is sadly
typical of what happened to many in the northeast San Fernando

Hernandez's parents, immigrants from El Salvador, bought their house
for $488,000 in 2005. Although they both had low-paying jobs at a
local dry cleaner, they were approved for a loan. And they were able
to put $100,000 down, mostly from the proceeds of a small town house
they had sold.

"This was something my mom wanted so bad," Hernandez said, gesturing
around the living room. Pride of ownership was evident in myriad
little touches, including carefully tended roses in a bed of white
gravel out front, a fruit bowl on the shiny dining room table, and an
oil painting of a mountainous Latin American village on the living
room wall.

At first, Hernandez said, the purchase seemed like a dream. His
mother was thrilled to be able to throw birthday parties for her
granddaughters in the backyard -- and with everyone in the house
contributing toward the mortgage, "it felt good. We were all helping
each other."

Then things started to fall apart.

Hernandez said his mother had wanted a fixed rate but was instead
steered toward a negative amortizing loan, in which the family was
allowed to make less than a standard principal and interest payment
each month, and so the total principal slowly increased. Today they
owe more than $500,000.

At the same time, the value of their house has plummeted and might
now be worth less than $300,000.

Looking back, Hernandez said he can't believe he was foolish enough
to let his mother get into a loan under such terms, but a broker he
trusted assured him he would be able to refinance.

Recently, the terms of the loan changed so that the family must now
start paying back their principal, meaning their monthly payment has
shot up to $4,000 from $2,300.

On a recent afternoon, Hernandez held the bill stub in one hand and
clutched his forehead with the other.

"This is our home. We don't want to lose it, but at the same time,
there is no way we can do a $4,000 payment," he said.

Hernandez did not know where to turn and said he had given $300 to a
so-called foreclosure vulture who promised to save his home and then
stopped returning his phone calls.

Then he heard an announcement at church.

So many people at Mary Immaculate and other local Roman Catholic
churches are facing foreclosure that the church began making
announcements about it at Mass and set up a table outside services
where people could get information. Lasseigne, the priest, had teamed
with other leaders from One-LA to try to organize a response.

Over the last few weeks, parishioners have confided a stream of
stories to one another -- in some cases marking the first time they
admitted to anyone the trouble they are in.

Not everyone is in the same situation. Some people appear to have
been pushed by unscrupulous brokers into loans that seemed almost
designed to fail. Others were so desperate to own homes that they got
in over their heads, paying more for houses than they could afford.
Still others have lost jobs or suffered illness, making it difficult
for them to make their payments.

Government officials and policy experts are watching the effort --
especially because financial leaders lately have been saying the
private sector has not done enough to prevent foreclosures.

"Foreclosures are a disaster not only for homeowners and lenders but
for the communities in which they occur," said Rep. Brad Sherman
(D-Sherman Oaks) in a written response to questions from The Times.

"The current loan modification process is very cumbersome and
confusing to borrowers, and, far too often, lenders and mortgage
servicers are uncooperative. . . . I am very interested in seeing the
information that these community groups plan to collect."

City Councilman Richard Alarcon, who represents the area, said the
effort may be a long shot -- but it is one he applauds.

Many of his constituents, he said, are financially unsophisticated
and may not speak English well.

Some were victims of predatory lending. Others do not understand the
foreclosure process well and don't know what their rights are. Many
feel trapped.

Meanwhile, he said, his district is growing more blighted. Some
vacant homes have become magnets for rave parties. Other houses have
turned into parched wastelands as water bills go unpaid and upkeep

"The need is crying out," Alarcon said.

Garrison is a Times staff writer.

jessica.garrison at latimes.com

     Los Angeles, California
     Editor-in-Chief, CubaNews
     "Cuba - Un Paraíso bajo el bloqueo"

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