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CPD In the News

| Organizing for Housing Justice & A Home to Thrive
Published By:The Hill

It’s true: HUD policy really does hurt our neighborhoods

HUD has a program that sells tens of thousands of troubled mortgages across the country, many in black and Latino neighborhoods hard hit by the housing crisis, to Wall Street speculators - at a discount!  Please let that sink in.

Since 2010, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has been auctioning off pools of very delinquent mortgages through a program they call Distressed Asset Sales Program, or DASP.  In most cases, the sales have gone to the highest bidder, which have been hedge funds and private equity firms.

Lone Star Fund, a private equity firm started by a Texas billionaire, and Bayview Asset Management, an affiliate of the private equity firm Blackstone Group, have been two of the primary beneficiaries of these sales. The result? Struggling homeowners lose their homes and speculators turn the properties into high-cost rentals that contribute to displacement in communities across the country.

This month, over 110,000 people from across the country signed a petition calling on HUD Secretary Julian Castro, to change this program. This comes on the heels of a March 1st letter to HUD from 45 members of Congress issuing a similar call for reforms to this mortgage sale program. In fact, for over two years, housing advocates and national policy groups have been pushing HUD to fix this program.

In an interview on WNYC Studio’s “The New York Radio Hour,” Secretary Castro referred to our protests that his program is enriching Wall Street as “sloganeering.” We wish that were the case. Unfortunately, it is simply a fact that 98% of the mortgages sold through HUD’s DASP program are going to Wall Street, one that can be verified on HUD’s own website where they post reports from these sales. Most, if not all, of these Wall Street buyers are what the industry itself calls “vulture capitalists” – investors that specialized in distressed assets in the hopes of making them more profitable and selling them for a profit.

In an effort to suggest that he has addressed the problem, Secretary Castro touts the agency’s 2015 auctions of troubled mortgages in which only non-profits were eligible to bid. Let’s be clear. Only 172 mortgages were sold to non-profits through these auctions, while a whopping 15,309 went to Wall Street investors in 2015. So yes, a gesture was made by the agency, but at such a miniscule scale he surely cannot suggest that the problem is solved.

There is no reason to sell such a high percentage of these loans to some of the same culprits responsible for the housing crisis in the first place. In fact, it seems to be in direct conflict with HUD’s mission to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. Call me skeptical, but I don’t trust a private equity firm like Blackstone – a company whose CEO made $734 million last year - to help fulfill that mission. Blackstone and other major speculators have a goal of making as much money as possible, and in the process are chipping away at the wealth and stability of neighborhoods in the process.

There is a viable alternative, that housing and civil rights groups across the country are calling for.  HUD should prioritize selling these loans to good actors that have a community-centered plan to save homes from foreclosure when possible and, when foreclosure cannot be avoided, to meet the affordable housing needs of the community with their property disposition plans.

A growing number of Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) have programs to do just this, and have raised the capital needed to buy pools of these delinquent mortgages.  But so far, they haven’t been able to get their hands on the number of mortgages that they can afford. HUD should do all it can to make sure CDFIs and other good actors are prioritized for these sales.

I have seen too many people in my community lose their homes and their wealth to Wall Street speculators. We cannot allow the same policies that ravaged our communities to continue. For me the choice is very clear: will Secretary Castro make sure that HUD helps families stay in their homes, or will he allow HUD to continue to sign over these loans to Wall Street and fuel neighborhood displacement?

It’s time for HUD to make the right choice and partner with non-profit CDFIs and other organizations that will keep our neighborhoods together. I encourage everyone who cares about the stability of neighborhoods across the country to join with me in calling on Secretary Castro and HUD to change the DASP program so that it prioritizes foreclosure avoidance and the creation of affordable housing.

By Ana Maria Archila