Martin Luther King III
Last year, my family and I were honored to join millions around the world in celebrating the 50th anniversary of the landmark “March on Washington.” Beyond the powerful exhortation against racism of my father’s “I Have a Dream” speech, however, the organizers were demanding economic justice, along with civil rights, for African Americans and all who were being shut out of the ‘American Dream.’
Today, the disproportionate impact of the foreclosure crisis in communities of color – 17 foreclosures per 1,000 homes in minority zip codes as opposed to 10 per 1,000 in white communities – underscores the collateral damage of the greed-fueled push to force struggling families of all ethnicities to forfeit their own pieces of the ‘Dream.’
My father spent a lifetime working to combat the destructive trifecta of poverty, racism, and violence. In our view, the growing dissolution of homeownership, the primary opportunity for building net wealth for hard-working Americans, constitutes nothing less than “economic violence” being perpetrated against the most financially vulnerable constituency.
In the context of the foreclosure crisis as violence against homeowners, it occurred to me that the six steps for nonviolent social change that my father used in many of his most successful campaigns could be applied to launch an inclusive movement to address and resolve the issues surrounding forced foreclosures.
Nonviolence is a time-honored process with the following phases: (1) Information Gathering; (2) Education; (3) Personal Commitment; (4) Discussion/Negotiation; (5) Direct Action; and (6) Reconciliation. The objective is simply to defeat injustice, not an opponent, through reasoned and non-hostile compromise. And that is our mission.
In January 2013, we participated in a national community outreach effort sponsored by the Independent Foreclosure Review (IFR), an entity established by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Reserve and the Office of Thrift Supervision to assist in providing remediation for affected homeowners. Although nearly eight million persons were reached directly and indirectly through churches across the country, we were shocked to learn that the IFR was abruptly terminated before it could even begin to help a single borrower.
Since the beginning of the housing crisis, some 4.9 million homeowners are in foreclosure and 1.9 million families continue to struggle to stay current on their mortgages, with a large percentage of them “under water.”
With so much suffering – and homeownership at its lowest level in two decades – it is particularly abhorrent that certain powerful hedge funds and insurance conglomerates are pushing hard for more foreclosures rather than sustainable resolutions that would allow families to keep their homes. This pro-foreclosure campaign seeks to unravel the mortgage principal reduction objectives in federal remediation settlements and block the use of loan modifications as a tool to restore stability in communities.
The real eye-opener is that it is a $9.4 trillion problem affecting some 9 million citizens in the United States. And the growing erosion of wealth and equity is bankrupting minority and other disadvantaged citizens whose aspirations for homeownership are being jeopardized by huge corporate financial institutions whose callous indifference to the plight of struggling families is reprehensible.
Unfortunately, there is still a widespread misperception that the devastating subprime scandal is behind us. But Beyond Broke, a report prepared by the Washington-based Center for Global Policy Solutions, thoroughly analyzes the systemic roots of the economic disparities manifested in the continuing housing crisis.
With homeownership remaining the “key driver of wealth,” the far-reaching adverse consequences of foreclosure are inevitable. We have recently reached out to Attorney General Eric Holder and urged his intervention to counter the aggressive pro-foreclosure campaign that is seriously and disproportionately undermining the stability of minority communities and exacerbating neighborhood blight. (The full text of my letter to Mr. Holder appears on my website http://www.mlk3.com).
We are reminded that the Civil Rights Act of 1968 – Title VIII of which was also known as the Fair Housing Act and prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin, sex (and as amended) handicap and family status – was passed on April 11, 1968. President Johnson rallied support for the bill as a fitting tribute to my father’s legacy, exactly one week after he was taken from us.
Today, some 46 years later, there is still much more work to be done.
But the stakes are even higher now. After generations of hardship and hard work to pursue the better life promised by the ‘American Dream,’ disadvantaged communities are now headed toward certain bankruptcy with the loss of their most significant net wealth asset – homeownership. Policymakers, regulators and fiduciaries overseeing the mortgage market simply cannot allow that to happen when so many have sacrificed so much to open the door to that ‘Dream.’