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Opinion and Analysis from the Grassroots

Dude: What Happened to My House?
By Stan Santos

In 2009, my family became part of the exploding number of households that were buying or owned homes that lost half their value. In November, I took the first steps toward a solution, seeking assistance from the Bank of America to bring down my payments. Thus begins one family’s saga.

In April 2007, we purchased an older 4-bedroom, 3-bath home with a huge yard for our children and grandchildren to play, dream and grow healthy. The future seemed bright and promising, but events would change our fortunes. Soon, the country was in the throes of economic crisis, with property values and mortgages figuring in both the causes and the effects in this complicated mess. In October 2008, with the economy in full crisis mode, Congress hurriedly approved a $700 billion dollar TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) bailout for the banks and corporations. Working and unemployed homebuyers received nothing but false promises, including the “Making Homes Affordable” program, which was announced with proclamations of “help is on the way!” Months later, thousands of homeowners had applied, and we are still awaiting assistance.

Following the disastrous summer of 2009, with the crisis and unemployment growing unabated, I inquired with Bank of America regarding eligibility. I was not looking for a big handout or salvation from my own irresponsible spending; I only sought to lower my interest rate a few points. I was told that we would not qualify because we were not behind.

Confident that was something I could fix, I set about paying off some credit cards, and by November, I was a few mortgage payments behind. This time, I went to the Fresno Community Housing Council, a nonprofit group that was helping homebuyers. They reviewed my documents and called Bank of America, which informed them that I met the basic criteria, and it would take about 45 days to receive a packet with the terms of my modification and a “trial” period that would precede the final adjustment. I was confident my mortgage concerns were on their way toward resolution.

By February 2010, no packet had arrived, so I contacted Bank of America. I was stunned when they said that my application had been lost. The odd thing was that they did not say, “What application?” Rather, they simply stated my application had been lost, and I would have to submit all over again.

Around that time, the beleaguered director of the Housing Council had resigned, feeling angry and betrayed. All the hard work and sincere efforts on the part of his agency had done little to relieve families who were at risk of losing their homes.

While I pondered the notion of again submitting the piles of receipts, income tax returns, bank statements and bills, I received a “Notice of Acceleration,” which stated that unless all payments and fees were made current, my home would be foreclosed. In desperation, I called another loan officer and was surprised to be given the first honest response I had received from anyone associated with the process. They told me bluntly, “They did not lose your application. As long as they feel that your income is high enough, despite the hardships which should help you to qualify, your loan will not be adjusted. If you do not make your payments, the bank will foreclose.”

I then asked of a new program that was supposed to help lower interest, more like a traditional refinance. When the representative keyed in my information, she responded that I was not eligible because I was late on my payments. Thus ended my ordeal with Making Homes Affordable. I came away with one important lesson: Nothing will change as long as banks and corporations run this country.

Addendum: According to the Housing Council Web site, in May 2010 there were 2,754 homes for sale in the Fresno area, 47% of which were bank owned, likely the result of foreclosure. Of the 641 homes sold, 37.3% were foreclosure sales and 15.7% were short sales, which occur when the value of the home falls below the balance of the loan and the bank agrees to settle for what it will fetch on the market. Based on this, it can be concluded that more than 50% of the home sales were the product of a family’s financial stress and the declining value of their home. In June 2010, there were 2,914 listings with 701 homes sold: 34.9% were foreclosure sales and 18.8% were short sales. Again, more than 50% of the home sales were due to the crisis, leaving only 46.3% of traditional sales.

*****

Stan Santos is an activist in the labor and immigrant community. You can reach him at ssantos@cwa9408.org.

Meeting with the Mayor
By Ellie Bluestein

Five of us met with Mayor Swearengin, Eddie Aubrey (Office of Independent Review), Mark Scott (City Manager) and the Mayor’s secretary. Three members of Central California Criminal Justice Committee, two members of League of Women Voters, president of ACLU. The meeting was held to find out what concerns the mayor has about the withdrawal of the Fresno County District Attorney from investigation of Police shootings and other serious police actions by Fresno police officers. The mayor is very concerned about this decision but has little recourse in this matter and is wondering why citizens and the local media are not expressing concern, as they did when the issue of police accountability was raised regarding the hiring of an OIR. It was clear that the OIR would not be able to conduct independent investigations or subpoena witnesses under the present city charter, which places the OIR under the city manager’s jurisdiction, same as the Police Department, rather than under the city council. The only way to establish that chain of command would have been to vote a city charter change. At one point Mayor Autry called for a vote on city charter change when the council refused to vote for an OIR, but they rejected that option. CCCJC considered the possibility of calling for a charter change ballot initiative, but the cost was outrageous, so we went with what we could achieve.

There is no regulation or law obligating the county District Attorney to investigate actions of city police. Mr. Aubrey has been researching options. Of 23 counties investigated all but Fresno County employ the practice of having the District Attorney investigate police shootings and other serious police actions. Some do it automatically when an incident occurs, others, as was the case in Fresno, are called in by the PD when they think it is appropriate, always in the case of police shootings. When the District Attorney announced, that her department had not been conducting investigations of police incidents by the Fresno PD since February 25 and would no longer continue to do so, the reasons given were budget concerns and lack of need since the OIR is in place. Of course, this was totally ingenuous since the DA knows full well the limitations of the OIR, and since she has continued to serve the rest of the county, including Clovis and all other cities, except Fresno.

However, there is a huge backlog of cases from as far back as 2004 that the DA’s office has not completed investigating. From 2009 alone there are 7 deadly incidents that need investigation. The OIR and the Fresno PD are working hard to expedite the completion of these cases, and there is a lot of wrangling and discussion over getting the DA’s office to accomplish this as quickly as possible. In counties where the DA is active they set their own priorities as to what cases demand attention-child molestation, and other serious crimes, and always police shootings, are automatically targets of DA investigations.

So far the DA is intransigent on this issue of investigation of Fresno PD cases, and there has been little response from the public and the press. When we worked towards the establishment of an OIR for ten years many people and organizations supported that goal, and “The Bee” ran numerous editorials and features also favoring the position. If it is important to the accountability of Fresno police policies and practices the public must raise a fuss again, with both the DA and the Fresno County Board of Supervisors, which funds the DA’s office and has jurisdiction over its operation. The Central California Criminal Justice Committee is planning to meet with both the District Attorney and the Fresno County Board of Supervisors to pursue this issue.

As for the OIR and its operation, Eddie Aubrey will be giving a report to the city council in August covering his first six months of operation. It will be open to the public. The mayor expressed her total commitment to the office of Independent Review despite pressure during the budget hearings to do away with the office. Mr. Aubrey is now finally located in a suitable office, with a full-time secretary. His contact information is: 2300 Tulare St. Suite 120, or call 559-498-1400.

*****

Ellie Bluestein has been a member of the Central California Criminal Justice Committee for ten years. You may reach her at 559-229-9807.

Women’s Vote Was Not Given
By Ruth Gadebusch

Never, ever let it be said that the vote was given to women. It was a long hard struggle, albeit it never as bloody as in England, where voting demands were often accompanied by physical altercations, not the peaceful demonstrations adopted in America. It was also in England where Lucretia Mott, a leading abolitionist and suffragist, having been denied a seat at a world abolition conference, made her decision to return home with renewed commitment to the struggle for women’s rights. Mrs. Mott and Alice Paul, women’s rights leaders, were Quakers and pacifists, not unlike our Raging Grannies and those who stand on the corner of Blackstone and Shaw on the first Friday of every month.

When the vote was finally won by women, Carrie Chapman Catt noted, “It took George Washington six years to rectify men’s grievances by war. But it took 72 to establish women’s rights by law.”

In 1776, New Jersey had been the first colony to allow women to vote only to rescind it in 1807. Some Indian tribes allowed women to vote. Kentucky let women vote in school board elections in 1838.

The quest began in earnest on a hot sultry July day in Seneca Falls, N.Y., in 1848 when 240 women and a few men gathered in the Wesleyan Methodist Church for the first women’s rights conference, presided over by James Mott, it being unseemly for a woman to do so. Modeled after the Declaration of Independence, their Declaration of Sentiments listed 18 grievances. Resolutions addressing all the issues passed unanimously except the one for suffrage, which was considered too radical. In the end, it too passed.

With the exception of Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune, the ideas were greeted with overwhelming ridicule. Bit by slow bit, with advocates paying heavy prices for their actions, breakthroughs were achieved.

Women’s vote was a contentious issue in the admission of Wyoming to the union. Montana sent Jeanette Rankin to Congress before she could even vote in other states! It was in 1913 that California passed the referendum for women’s vote by one vote per precinct. That year, Illinois allowed women to vote in presidential elections.

Of local interest: It was in 1910 that the Reedley “wets” won, keeping saloons, but on Valentine’s Day 1913 with women voting Reedley was incorporated as a dry city.

Along the way, Susan B. Anthony was arrested when she attempted to vote. In 1881, Elizabeth Cady Stanton had declared, “We solemnly vow that there should never be another season of silence until we have the same rights everywhere on this green earth.” Forty thousand marched in New York City in 1915 demanding women’s vote. New York was also the scene of the Triangle Shirt Factory fire when hundreds of young women with few rights lost their lives because exits were blocked.

The suffragist demand was “men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less.” Serious differences developed in the movement regarding support for abolition versus the need for the Southern vote; however, participation by all prevailed with Ida B. Wells, an organizer of NAACP along with Sojourner Truth and others eventually welcomed into the fold.

It was with great disappointment that the suffragists learned that the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution included only the freed male slaves.

Suffragists organized a boycott of Woodrow Wilson’s arrival in Washington’s Union Station for his inauguration. Staging massive picketing in front of the White House, many were arrested and force-fed during their incarceration in an asylum for the insane.

In January 1918, President Wilson, needing the women in the war effort, gave his support–but only at the end of the war. The women had cried, “If we can send our sons into battle for the rights of foreigners to self-rule, then women should have the same rights at home. Are not American women as good as French men?”

In May 1919, the House passed the 19th Amendment by the exact number of votes needed. The hymn “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow” rang out from supporters. The Senate followed in June with two votes to spare. Thus began the arduous process of state ratification. State after state expected to ratify rejected it. With Tennessee the last possible opportunity, it was a dejected group of supporters watching in unbearable suspense the skullduggery of the legislature in August 1920.

Unbelievable triumph! On a recount vote, a young man who had been expected to be with the opposition said, “Aye.” Harry Burn had responded to his mother’s plea that he support the women. Thus, on August 18 Tennessee became the necessary 36th state to ratify. The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was certified by the Secretary of State on August 26, 1920, ensuring women that most
cherished right, the vote.

The National Women’s Political Caucus will be celebrating the 90th anniversary of this amendment on August 26. For more info, call 559-439-5818 or e-mail hatjanet@sbcglobal.net.

*****

Ruth Gadebusch is a former member of the Fresno Unified Board of Education and the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, an emeritus member of the Center for Civic Education Board of Directors and a community activist.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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