Last week we posted a couple of reports pointing to the relative stability in the housing market that Baltimore has ‘enjoyed’ and how the faltering economy seems to have spurred growth in the non-profit sector. Today we are reminded of how important the qualifier ‘relative’ is. Optimists and bank executives largely believe the economy has bottomed out, but the social ramifications (and, likely more of the economic ramifications in the commercial real estate sector) are still to be dealt with. Many of the social tensions that the economic crisis has wound up do their worst damage on those communities already strained by marginalization: recent immigrants and the working poor.
One group that has received a good deal of attention (in part because its constituents have mature social and media networks) is the Hispanic community in New York. MKCREATIVE has done a great deal of design and communications work with the Neighborhood Housing Association of New York City, but even those in the community-housing and nonprofit sectors outside New York have good reason to be concerned with what is taking place there.
has recently reported about the ways shady mortgage modification schemes target the Hispanic community (in Brooklyn) with deals too-good-to-be-true, but with all the trappings of a reputable, government-backed, refinancing plan. From her post:
â€œCompanies that offer to modify mortgages and ask for large sums of money in advance are rarely legitimate. They usually do nothing for the people from whom they take money,â€ says Mike Mastman, a housing counselor with Grow Brooklyn, a Bushwick-based non-profit affiliated to the Brooklyn Cooperative.
In this Brooklyn neighborhood where foreclosures became an epidemic, opportunists are making a killing. Many offer homeowners help from Obamaâ€™s mortgage rescue plans in exchange for thousands of dollars, and vanish once they receive the money.
Such fly-by-night debt-reduction schemes are hardly new. Nevertheless, what is especially telling about her report is how these companies leverage the good will many feel toward America’s first minority president and use the language of the real (if, frankly, stunningly insufficient) programs meant to assist homeowners through the real estate and stock market crashes. Such deceptions leave victims angry at the non-existent/faceless company, of course; but they also leave vulnerable groups even more at-risk and exposed to economic vagaries. Moreover, people who suffer from such scams generally grow distrustful of the original/official program genuinely meant to help them. Further distrust of institutional assistance (federal, state, or nonprofit) can not be good for any community.
As a sign of that growing distrust in legitimate institutions to do good work, a recent spot on Brian Lehrer’s radio show on WNYC concerns the ways New York’s banks (most of which fit that oligarchic/anti-capitalist ‘Too-Big-To-Fail’ category invented by the Bush Administration to help its friends) have not pursued means of helping customers through the crisis. They might talk of using federal recapitalization monies to help small businesses and home owners, but few people see the benefits.
Perhaps the most damning problem of all – and remember the the problem is multiplied all over the nation and in many other communities – is how families are affected, with pressures put on children, grandparents, and siblings. When a family is put under the pressures of foreclosure, money might be moved from good food for the kids to paying a delinquent bill, or fear will move parents to make poor decisions about refinancing, or a family will move in with neighbors or other family members. The myriad pressures might warp family dynamics in ways that last far beyond the immediate economic strains, if not dealt with in an open and flexible way.
A recent(National Council of La Raza – “The largest national Latino civil rights and advocacy organisation in the United States, NCLR works to improve opportunities for Hispanic Americans.”) talks about many of these pressures as they apply to Hispanic families in New York (The Council asks for contributions for those who download the full report.). From the executive summary, we drew a few pointers that we felt deserved comment:
- As a result of foreclosure, spousal relationships frequently suffered. Signs of depression, increased anxiety and tension, and feelings of guilt and resentment were commonplace.
- The foreclosure had a ripple effect on relationships in extended family and social networks.
- Children’s academic performance and behavior at school were impacted significantly.
Few things are more acidic to the bonds of marriage than economic distress, and theduring recessions. If, as conservative analysts like to stress, children of divorced parents suffer lower school marks and fewer job prospects, then the effects of this recession will play out for over a generation. Many of these same analysts who stress the importance of the nuclear family also stress the need for a deregulated financial system. The growing body of statistics and analyses coming out of New York (and numerous other cities throughout the country) strongly suggest that demands for the latter have severely strained the survivability of the former.