Falls Church Calling the continuing depression in the housing market a "make-or-break" moment for the middle class, President Barack Obama delivered a short and pointed speech this morning about his proposed Homeowner’s Bill of Rights to an audience in Falls Church.
"I’m proposing one straightforward set of common-sense rules of the road that every family knows they can count on when they’re shopping for a mortgage," he told the crowd of about 350 people at the James Lee Community Center.
"No more hidden fees or conflicts of interest. No more getting the runaround when you call about your loan. No more fine print," the president said to loud applause. "New safeguards against inappropriate foreclosures. New options to avoid foreclosure if you’ve fallen on hardship or a run of bad luck. And a new, simple, clear form for new buyers of a home."
He addressed the local housing market. "Here in Falls Church, home values have fallen by about a quarter from their peak. In places like Las Vegas, more than half of all homeowners are underwater. More than half. So it’s going to take a while for those prices to rise again," he said.
The audience, which included many Fairfax-Falls Church housing advocates, cheered when the President took Congress to task for dragging its feet on plans he announced during the State of the Union Address last week to kick-start the stalled housing market.
"I am sending Congress a plan that will give every responsible homeowner in America the chance to save about $3,000 a year on their mortgage by refinancing at historically low rates…What this plan will do is help millions of responsible homeowners who make their payments on time but find themselves trapped under falling home values or wrapped up in red tape."
"Now, to move this part of my plan, we’re going to need Congress to act," he said, smiling as the audience started laughing. "We’re going to need Congress to act. I hear some murmuring in the audience here. That’s right, we need them to act."
He also blasted predatory lending practices, and vowed to tighten regulations.
"[The American people] were hurt. By lenders who sold loans to people who they knew couldn’t afford the mortgages…and banks that packaged those mortgages
up and traded them to reap phantom profits, knowing that they were building a house of cards."
"It was wrong. It was wrong," the president said to nods and a buzz of agreement in the audience. "It triggered the worst economic crisis of our lifetimes. And it has been the single biggest drag on our recovery from a terrible recession. Crushing debt has kept millions of consumers from spending."
The president seemed almost angry when he talked about setting up a task force and investigating "the kind of activity banks took when they packaged and sold risky mortgages."
"And that task force is ramping up its work as we speak. We’re going to keep at it and hold people who broke the law accountable and help restore confidence in the market. We’re going to speed assistance to homeowners. And we’re going to turn the page on an era of recklessness that hurt so many hardworking Americans."
HE SAID HIS PLAN will allow responsible homeowners to refinance at a lower rate, saving hundreds of dollars each month. "Or you can choose those savings to rebuild equity in your homes, which will help most underwater homeowners come back up for air more quickly," he said.
The president made it clear that his "aggressive plan" was not designed for those who have been irresponsible.
"This plan, like the other actions we’ve taken, will not help the neighbors down the street who bought a house they couldn’t afford, and then walked away and left a foreclosed home behind…It’s not going to help those who bought multiple homes just to speculate and flip the house and make a quick buck, but it can help those who’ve acted responsibly," he said.
He veered off script, and entertained the audience, when he recalled how confusing it was when he and First Lady Michelle Obama bought their first home.
"Now, think about it…How many of you have had to deal with overly complicated mortgage forms and hidden clauses and complex terms? I remember when Michelle and I bought our first condo — and we're both lawyers," he said, triggering laughter from the audience. "And we’re looking through the forms and kind of holding it up… reading it again…‘What does this phrase mean?’ And that’s for two trained lawyers."
The president then held up a single sheet of paper.
"So this is what a mortgage form should look like. This is it," he said to loud applause and cheers. "Now that our new consumer watchdog agency is finally running at full steam, now that Richard Cordray is in as the Director of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, they’re moving forward on important protections like this new, shorter mortgage form. Simple, not complicated. Informative, not confusing. Terms are clear. Fees are transparent."
After a pause for effect, the president took another shot at Congress to cheers from the audience: "This, by the way, is what some of the folks in Congress are trying to roll back and prevent from happening."
He called the housing crisis "personal," saying it struck at the heart of what it means to be middle class in America. "Our homes, the place where we invest our nest egg, place where we raise our family, the place where we plant roots in a community, the place where we build memories," he said.
He ended his speech with an appeal to Congress. "I urge Congress to act. Pass this plan. Help more families keep their homes. Help more neighborhoods remain vibrant. Help keep more dreams defended and alive. And I promise you that I’ll keep doing everything I can to make the future brighter for this community, for this commonwealth, for this country."
QUINCY SPRINGS, a Fairfax resident with the County’s Department of Neighborhood and Community Services, said the president was presenting Americans with an "opportunity."
"So many people have experienced job loss, foreclosures and other hardships. He has the right plan, and he doesn’t get the good credit he deserves," Springs said.
"It is inspiring to see the president move forward to implement a federal response to the mortgage and foreclosure crisis said Dean Klein, Director of the County’s Office to Prevent and End Homelessness, who attended the event with Pat Harrison, Fairfax County’s Deputy Director. "[The crisis] has impacted so many individuals and families in our community and nationally."
Sam Mayo, a 21-year-old intern with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, said he hoped President Obama goes another term to complete his plan.
"You just can’t replace his energy. I woke up at 4 a.m., because I was really excited to see the president. My mother knows real estate, and I’ve seen these big empty houses all over Northern Virginia. It’s scary to think about buying a home here," he said.
Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-11) issued a brief statement after the president’s speech: "I welcome President Obama back to Northern Virginia. His strong commitment to the economic recovery is obviously heartfelt and I proudly support him in that effort," Connolly said.