Bainbridge Island Review Letters to the Editor | Oct 18
October 20, 2008 · Updated 10:59 AM
Don’t blame people with low incomes
The financial crisis has brought along with it the blame game. This is understandable. However, too often I have heard the blame for the housing crisis laid at the feet of people with low and moderate incomes. There have been articles and editorials in major newspapers and magazines, and more than a few conversations overheard on Bainbridge Island, expressing the sentiment that the real gist of the problem was the efforts by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and others to get low-income households to purchase homes.
Some are even calling for the repeal of the Community Reinvestment Act. This is the act that, among other things, requires that banks invest in community needs such as affordable housing. If only there weren’t these efforts to bring home ownership to low-income families, the thinking goes, we as a nation wouldn’t be experiencing all this grief and pain!
Let’s be clear. The easy credit mania that gripped our nation was fueled by mortgage brokers and lenders who encouraged borrowing beyond what was reasonable and affordable for the borrower. This promise of easy money was no respecter of class. Households from nearly every economic level were caught up in this frenzy, fueled by poor underwriting standards and the lure of high profits for unscrupulous lenders.
It is true that a disproportionate number of these enticing deals were aimed at low-income households, preying on their desire to realize the American dream. But should they be faulted for wanting a dream many of us take for granted? Their fault, if any, was in trusting the mortgage professionals who convinced them that home values would always rise, and that the very good temporary deal they were offering would easily be replaced with a permanent great deal before the loan reset to a horrendously unaffordable rate.
The solution is not that households with low and moderate incomes should be denied home ownership. Rather, they should only own something they can truly afford, which is true for all of us. That is why our organization, the Housing Resources Board, acting as a Community Land Trust (CLT), will only sell the homes we develop to people whose housing costs will not burden them. Our goal is not to get people into a home at any cost, but rather to provide an opportunity for successful ownership.
Because of this approach, CLTs nationwide, which have sold many thousands of homes to people with low and even very low incomes, are experiencing foreclosure rates under 1 percent, even in this time of mortgage crisis! We should not assume that a household’s income level is the sole determining factor of whether they should own their own home. Owning is a huge responsibility. Many are not ready for such a responsibility regardless of their income level. But for those who are, and who are locked out of the regular market solely due to their income level, the CLT can provide that opportunity.
With support of our donor members on this island, we look forward to helping making this dream real for a number of our island neighbors and coworkers as we build our first CLT development on Ferncliff. We will all benefit when a broader range of our workforce has an ownership stake in our community.
Housing Resources Board
Lack of trust leads vote against lid-lift
Two of my highest priorities for the island are preserving its semi-rural character and adding permanent protection for more open space, so I should be ardently supporting the Metro Park District measure. But I am not, based largely on reasons of trust, or lack thereof.
This spring the mayor revealed that she had been working with a select committee to carry out polling on how to pass this measure. There was and there remains a question of whether she violated city spending laws in the way she contracted for this poll with the Trust for Public Land.
The Trust for Public Land is a laudable nonprofit organization dedicated to preservation of open space. It also earns fees by acting as an intermediary in transactions between the public and private sector for open-space acquisition. (Note that Tom Tyner, the Review’s “Latte Guy” columnist, is an attorney with TPL.)
In an attempt to learn more about this polling and the planning that went into it, I made a public records request of the city on June 7. Four months have now gone by, and although I have repeated my request in writing, I have yet to receive information on who attended these meetings, what was discussed, or where and when they were held. Some email records indiwcate that Council Member Chris Snow was involved, although he apparently did not tell the council about this process or his involvement
The email trail indicates that the mayor started planning for the parks measure over two years ago. These emails mostly concern meeting scheduling and poll design, and there is little or no discussion of the island’s actual park and open space needs – something that should have been the focus of any group advocating such action. The discussion seems to have focused almost solely on how to sell the measure, including such topics as bundling this vote with one for affordable housing.
Besides fairness and transparency, there is an issue here of consensus building. Measures like this should involve a wide group of islanders in a careful and deliberate process of deciding on our needs, targeting which properties to acquire, and creating a plan for ongoing funding, development and management. Done properly, this kind of advance work would have almost surely guaranteed widespread support for a program that a formal election would then have simply validated. This hasn’t happened, and instead we got a poorly-designed, top down marketing approach.
On three different projects now – the waterfront restrooms, Strawberry Plant Park, and now this parks measure – we have seen the city either waste large sums on design or carry out a flawed planning process, and this is cumulatively eroding the public trust. If we lose this trust, we will miss future opportunities to create more places to play, to walk, to enjoy nature.
I urge a no vote on the parks measure as a way of telling the city and park district that we (not “they”) need to do things differently.
Odd Fellows Road