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Guest Opinion: Jill Shook | Preventing Another Housing Debacle

Published on Monday, December 19, 2016 | 5:01 am
Jill Shook

Who can forget the housing crash of 2008? Do we want to see a repeat of this debacle? As someone who has advocated for affordable housing and housing justice in the city of Pasadena for twenty years, and given Housing Justice workshops around the country, I am heart sick by President Elect Donald Trump’s cabinet choices. Trump’s choice of Ben Carson is unacceptable. As head of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), an essential department to address our nation’s housing crisis, Carson, a retired neuro-surgeon, has no experience in housing policy and considers laws banning housing discrimination “socialist.”

Additionally, Trump is recommending Steven Mnuchin for Treasurer Secretary, a man who is known for running a “foreclosure machine.” According to a report from Democracy Now:

…..[ President Elect Trump] named billionaire Steven Mnuchin to be treasury secretary. Mnuchin has deep ties on Wall Street, including working as a partner for Goldman Sachs, where his father also worked. Mnuchin’s hedge fund also played a role in the housing crisis, after it scooped up the failing California bank IndyMac in 2008. Under Mnuchin’s ownership, IndyMac foreclosed on 36,000 families, particularly elderly residents trapped in reverse mortgages. Mnuchin was accused of running a “foreclosure machine.” The bank, which was renamed OneWest, was also accused of racially discriminatory lending practices. In 2015, Mnuchin sold the bank for $3.4 billion—$1.8 billion more than he bought it for.

Living in Pasadena, CA, home of IndyMac, later named One West (purchased by the investor pool led by Mnuchin in 2009), I experienced first-hand the effects of this “foreclosure machine.” I have friends who worked for IndyMac and together we watched it follow the path of providing subprime loans to people who could not afford them. Loans were given to two immigrant families I knew who had high hopes for the American dream of homeownership. The documents, required to be in Spanish, were offered only in English. These families were not required to state their income. The loans were intentionally made so that the borrowers could not repay them. This led these families into serious financial difficulty. That’s where I came in, helping to save their homes. It was a race against time. Phone calls to the bank were never responded to, while foreclosure proceedings proceeded faster than we could fill out loan modification paperwork. After applying for programs designed to help, help never came. One family’s home was lost. The parents and their seven children were given 15 minutes to pack up and leave.

This was standard practice at OneWest, according to a recent report in the LA Times by James Rufus Koren and Jim Puzzanghera.

In my book Making Housing Happen: Faith-based Affordable Housing Models (2012), I feature Rose Gudiel who stood up to IndyMac when the bank tried to foreclose on her home. Courageous people, including the religious community, began an around-the-clock vigil preventing the sheriff from evicting her. Others protested at the home of the Steven Mnuchin, then president of IndyMac, who lives in a 26 million dollar mansion in Bel Air. Only then did the bank decide to renegotiate her loan.

This is the bank president that President Elect Trump chose for treasurer secretary.

I am quite confident that Americans do not want a repeat of what happened in 2008 when low-income and elderly people were targeted for bad loans and lost not only their homes but most of the life savings. Middle class Americans also suffered huge losses from predatory bankers like Steven Mnuchin, and many have not yet recovered. Trump won support of the middle class by declaring “I will protect you from Goldman Sacs.” Now he is appointing a partner with Goldman Sachs who has a history of predatory banking. Dennis Kelleher, chief executive of Better Markets, called Trump’s Treasury pick and promises of looser financial rules “a flip-flop of historic proportion.”

As a Christian, I feel we are called to defend the rights of the poor. “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, ensure justice for those being crushed, yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice” (Proverbs 31:8-9). Therefore, I urge people of faith, and also people of conscience, to call upon President Elect Trump to reconsider and for Senators not to confirm his choice of cabinet members and advisers. He needs to choose cabinet members who are concerned about the rights of the poor and the middle class, not simply of Wall Street bankers.

Here you can contact President Elect Trump,
Here you can contact your senator:

Jill Suzanne Shook, D-Min, works with churches to bring about housing justice in the United States. She has earned graduate degrees from Denver Seminary and Bakke Graduate University. Shook has taught university-level courses in leadership and Housing Justice and her articles have appeared in Sojourners Magazine. She is the author of Making Housing Happen: Faith-Based Affordable Housing Models.

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