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10 Years Ago This July: Feds Seize Pasadena’s IndyMac Bank as Financial Meltdown of 2008 Grips Nation

Looking back at Pasadena’s role in the “Great Recession,” how it hit hard, and how signs are re-emerging that the lesson wasn’t learned by either lenders, or borrowers

Published on Wednesday, July 11, 2018 | 5:47 am
Depositors line up outside a branch of Pasadena-based IndyMac bank in part of what was the only major bank run in the United States in recent history.

A decade ago today, the federal government seized control of Pasadena-based IndyMac Bank in the midst of the banking system meltdown and the start of what would come to be known as “The Great Recession.”

More than one key turning point in the crisis originated in Pasadena, where banking and mortgage industry giant IndyMac was headquartered until it became the fourth largest bank in U.S. history to fail.

The effects reverberated throughout the economy as other institutions that had also invested heavily in risky — and in some cases allegedly predatory — subprime mortgage loans faltered as well.

Borrowers who had bet their futures on rising property values found themselves unable to make their ballooning mortgage payments when housing prices fell sharply.

IndyMac in Pasadena was the scene of bank runs and protests. The meltdown there affected not only mortgages but also depositors like Joan Aarestad of Pasadena and Lisa Marshal of Manhattan Beach.

Aarestad was a stay-at-home mother of two when she was informed by federal regulators that a large portion of her family’s savings had vanished.

“I was in the state of Montana on vacation when I began to see the TV footage of people in Pasadena lined up for blocks to get their funds out of Indymac bank because it had been taken over by the FDIC,” she said. “I remember having my feet up relaxing, thinking I don’t have to worry because the amount of money that we have is fully insured, and that turned out to be incorrect. By the time I got back to California, there was a note from the FDIC basically telling me that some of my funds were uninsured and were lost.”

Even though Aarestad’s accounts were co-owned by her husband, the FDIC would not recognize the second person for insurance purposes and insured the deposits in the standard individual amount of $100,000, explained Marshall. The FDIC refused to insure any funds over $100,000.

Marshall found herself in a similar situation and went on to help form a small group that ultimately enlisted the help of Congress to get back her money, as well as more than half a billion dollars belonging to thousands of other IndyMac depositors.

After two years of efforts, with the help of sympathetic legislators including then-Congresswoman Jane Harman and Congressman Adam Schiff, Congress passed a law retroactively raising the insurance level to $250,000, Marshall said.

“I was pleased to have a happy ending for everyone, including myself. It was a long, arduous task.”

Former IndyMac Chariman and CEO Michael Perry of San Marino, who agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by the FDIC for $1 million in 2012, has vehemently denied doing anything wrong.

He’s run a blog since 2011 arguing his case.

“Not one of the lawsuits against me has any merit,” he wrote in September of 2011.

“I, and the management team and directors of Indymac Bank, made prudent and appropriate business decisions based on the facts available to us at the time and always with the primary goal being to keep Indymac Bank safe and sound, within the parameters of our regulatory-approved, mortgage lending business model,” he continued. “And importantly, we always acted with honesty, integrity and complete transparency and properly complied with all relevant regulations and laws.”

“In hindsight, any mistakes we made were minor compared to the systemic and macroeconomic events that unfolded in this crisis,” he wrote. “We made it longer than any other major independent home lender, because we were well-managed. We just, unfortunately, were ‘Not Too Big To Fail.’

President and CEO of the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce Paul Little said the housing and banking collapses hit many Pasadena businesses hard.

“We had people who are members went out of business… had to downsize…to deal with significant financial challenges,” he said. “We were doing a sort of more aggressive series of events and activities, especially again, for those small business people.”

Local businesses banded together to support one another, Little said.

“Folks looked around and said, ‘You know, this is rough. You know, we’re going to get through this together,’” he said.

Pasadena businessman Ishmael Trone, who runs F&M Business Center and Unique Financial, said about 35 percent of his clients who owned real estate lost their properties in the housing market crash.

And even 10 years later, many people are still dealing with the fallout.

“There are still residual effects from that,” Trone said.

Some property owners are still struggling to fulfill deals they made with their banks to stay in their homes, he said.

“People are still trying to get their credit score high enough from where it fell down back then to where they can qualify to purchase a new home or refinance. So you have people still crawling out of the hole,” Trone said.

Ten years down the road, and housing prices are again high. Advertisements for “stated income” loans are again becoming more commonplace.

“You can look at the housing prices that are record high right now. You can look at the rents that are record high right now,” Trone said. “They’re going back to 2006, 2007, 2008 lending practices where a person trying to get a home loan can prove their income in a lot of ways. Instead of showing their W-2 income or other income taxes, they’re doing stated (income) loans again.”

“We’re still seeing the practice of these types of loans coming back and they’re actually marketing these loan products to agencies such as mine,” he said. “I’m repeating my conversations to them again as I did back in 2005. ‘You can’t afford it. Don’t do it. You cannot afford the property taxes.’ They’re not listening.”

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