How to Protect Main Street While Saving Wall Street


The current discussion in Washington can either lead to a rapid processing and recovery at the local level or a long drawn out destruction of local economies. This is particularly true of regions – Las Vegas, Phoenix, San Bernardino-Riverside, much of Florida – that have been hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis.

The current discussion is being limited to maximizing the yield on the securities that the Federal Government would acquire and then sell at auction nation wide. The disconnect that needs to be bridged lies with the focus on securities. In reality, these mortgages, however arcanely packaged, represent residential real estate. The smoke and mirrors of securities too complicated to understand must be cleared away. Otherwise, a few Wall Street interests will do even more damage and reap all the returns.

The key issue, then, is not how the paper gets marketed but how to maximize real estate values locally. If the Feds dump securities that then lead to high levels of absentee ownership in local communities for example, many neighborhoods will be seriously damaged. If local regions can manage the disposition of these assets - higher returns will be realized and goals such as home ownership and local economic development can be advanced.

We have seen this before. In the 1980s, the Federal Home Administration dumped large numbers of foreclosed homes on the market in San Bernardino. Instead of finding buyers, speculators preferred to rent these residences out. The result was a long-running decline in parts of the city, one that could now be further exacerbated.

Again in the 1990s, the Federal Resolution Trust Corporation dumped apartments, commercial, office and Industrial properties. Depressing real estate values in local economies, it killed many deals and devastated local property taxes.

But this time the Inland Empire will not be alone. If these securities are purchased nationally, Wall Street speculators could transform significant parts of formerly middle class suburban areas into largely renter-dominated badlands.

What we need is a locally controlled intermediary – perhaps a Regional Asset Value Recovery Corporation (AVRC) – that would seek to maximize asset value by taking full advantage of local real estate knowledge. Such a regional public-private partnership could help retain value for real estate assets while stabilizing communities, and minimizing the fiscal impact on the taxpayer.

These local groups – using both government and private matching funds – would be able to use the crisis to bring new life, and new homeowners, to these communities. This is something we are already working on in San Bernardino and Riverside counties, geographically known as the Inland Empire. This area is among the most impacted regions in the country.

San Bernardino and Riverside county governments, along with more than 15 city governments within those counties and over 30 business owners, are prepared to come together to manage the acquisition and disposition of properties. The group would manage the unraveling of income streams so that packaged mortgages can more suitably be restructured for the benefit of homeowners. It would also capture other current Federal resources, for instance the New Market Tax Credits, and fully utilize them in order to “prime the pump” of housing recovery.

Among the priorities of this entity would be to ensure the housing stock is maintained or renovated to meet basic health and safety standards. Abandoned housing stock is posing a serious public health risk. Addressing those risks has a direct impact on federal, state and local governments and on asset value.

It would also work to create opportunities to meet low and moderate income housing needs. On the one hand, not everyone can buy. Making units available to rent in the right areas would be a good way to maintain and support value. On the other hand, eventually, price stability and performance by tenants makes those same tenants candidates as future homeowners. The AVRC would be the right vehicle to undertake those efforts.

Another primary focus would be to maintain local property taxes and critical services. Depressed property values have an obvious ripple effect on local government’s ability to provide basic government services. Local communities stand ready to partner to protect our economy, their communities, their taxpayers, and their homeowners. We cannot leave the health of our communities solely to the discretion of either Washington or Wall Street.

Tony Mize
President, Workforce homebuilders

Jeff Burum
President, Inland Empire Opportunity Fund
Chairman, National Community Renaissance

Steve PonTell
President, La Jolla Institute
Germania Corporation