The rabble-rousers from Detroit Eviction Defense were looking forward to showing federal officials firsthand the devastation caused by home foreclosures in the city.
Uprooted families and destroyed neighborhoods would be used to convey the message in a way abstract statistics simply can’t.
At least, that was the plan when the activists, with the aid of higher-ups at the United Autoworkers Union, invited officials from Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Finance Agency to come to Detroit and witness the destruction.
After months of negotiations, a meeting was set up for Monday, May 20. About 10 bureaucrats had agreed to come here, take a tour and then attend a town hall-style meeting. One of the agreed-upon ground rules was that the officials would look and listen — but not answer questions — and television cameras would be kept out of the meeting.
At least, that’s the way it was explained to us by longtime activist Steve Babson, a stalwart in the coalition trying to combat the foreclosure epidemic.
The meeting never happened.
“Following two months of discussion and planning, the federal agencies have withdrawn from the hearing at the direction of legal counsel, claiming — at the 11th hour —it would be “awkward” for officials to hear testimony from homeowners who are in litigation, fighting eviction by Fannie or Freddie,” UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada announced in a press release.
“This was our chance for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to listen and learn about how destructive their policy of foreclosure and eviction is for metro Detroit,” Estrada stated. “They need to see and hear the evidence that their policies are hurting working families and undermining neighborhoods.
“Fannie and Freddie, which own or insure more than half of all residential mortgages in the country, have foreclosed on more than 15,000 families in Wayne County since the government takeover by the Federal Housing and Finance Agency [in 2008],” Estrada added. “Thousands more have lost their homes in Oakland and Macomb.”
Why, you might ask, is the UAW involved?
“The UAW sees the fight to halt foreclosures as part of its historic commitment to social justice for all working families,” said Estrada.
The hoped-for results such a meeting might bring were also explained in the release:
“Fannie and Freddie have declared a moratorium on foreclosures in areas stricken by Hurricane Sandy. Estrada and organizers from Detroit Eviction Defense argue that they should do the same for Metro Detroit, flattened by banking fraud, mass unemployment, and the resulting storm surge of foreclosures. They are also calling on Fannie and Freddie to reverse their current policy of refusing to lower the principal on ‘underwater’ loans where the balance owed is higher than the plummeting market value of the home.”
What’s happened here may be an unnatural disaster, but it’s a disaster nonetheless.
The plan was to present officials with a new report the coalition has put together. Titled “A Hurricane Without Water: Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Foreclosure Crisis in Metro Detroit,” it lays bare the scope of the problem and ways to address it.
Undeterred, organizers pressed on, holding the meetings and taking “testimony” from victims and activists alike, making a video recording they plan to pass along to the bureaucrats.
“We are disappointed we can’t be at the event but we look forward to hearing the concerns of the homeowners and seeing the impact the housing crisis has had on the affected residents,” Meg Burns, head of the FHFA’s policy team, said in an email to the Hits. “This information will serve as the basis for the follow-up policy discussion that we remain committed to having with the UAW and other interested parties.”
Babson and other members of the coalition weren’t exactly buying the official explanation of why the bureaucrats decided to be a no-show.
“We’d made it clear all along what was intended,” he told us, saying that the coalition had agreed that the representatives of Fannie, Freddie and the FHFA wouldn’t be required to answer questions or engage in debate.
“To say that this would somehow contaminate legal proceedings just made everyone’s eyes roll,” Babson said. “For them to punk out like this really pisses us off.”
He said that a plan is already in the works to organize a caravan to Chicago, where Freddie and Fannie are headquartered, to personally deliver a video of the testimony.
“They can run,” said Babson. “But they can’t hide.”
News Hits is written by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]trotimes.com.